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 I was more than ready for and others I 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 forced me to undergo such painful change and finally confront the demons I have held inside for so long.
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.
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 constant state of anxiety. And as I started paying closer attention to what exactly was triggering me, I came to the realization that it was the most basic acts of parenting 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 had witnessed and endured 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.
Until I had my daughter, I knew that my life was like a roller coaster with really high happy moments, and insane low moments. But, I had no idea that my past was still effecting my present. Motherhood came so naturally to me. Once my daughter was born the maternal instincts kicked right in. I was filled with love, adoration, and stability.
Slowly with time 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 most difficult part of change and growth. I had no idea it was coming either and I was was not prepared.
As my daughter grew from being an infant and became a toddler (the dreaded age I was at the time my abuse had started), I started having a lot of anxiety about her well-being, intense nightmares, anger and hostility, and severe 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. My life slowly crumbled right before my eyes.
Flashbacks and random mood swings flooded my mind and I began to feel out of touch with the present reality. There were times that I had flew into an intense rage because I was being pulled in every direction between being a full-time manager at work, being a full-time wife, and a full-time mother of a rambunctious toddler who needed me to be present. I was not emotionally prepared for everything life was throwing at me.
Dealing with a tiny screaming dictator on evenings when I felt emotionally drained from a night filled with terrifying nightmares, then 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. Instantly I would feel this overwhelming guilt and sadness. I never would want to hurt my child emotional or physically. But I constantly had this anger and rage flowing through my body, but for reasons I did not understand.
After screaming at my daughter I would run into another room and close the door just so that my daughter couldn’t witness her mother break down and cry. I’d just lay on the floor or the bed and stare off into space for several minutes until I could bring myself back to the present. Then an overwhelming wave of guilt would suddenly take over. I do not want my daughter to see this side of me. I did not want her to know I was hurting so deeply. I could not rob her of the innocence and thoughts of this perfect world children create in their minds. Once calm I would walk out and hug and kiss my daughter and remind her that mommy loves her so much.
Being a parent with CPTSD is daunting. It’s heartbreaking because your past robs you of your innocence and you are forced to grow with this shadow of your past lingering over you. Having CPTSD will rob your family of the present and the happiness in it. Dealing with life day to day not knowing what is going to trigger you and when is emotionally exhausting. You can’t always be aware of what is going to switch on your brain’s panic switch and you always have to be ready for it. This is the most daunting part and you have to be patient with yourself and never give up. It’s absolutely necessary to face your fears head on and keep growing until one day you hopefully outgrow the effects that your past has had on you
My biggest fears are that I will become my biological mother. That I will 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 responsibility to keep getting help and treatment for the past that continues to haunt me.
I created this website and this blog to help me get my fears and struggles out. It is much easier for me to put my emotions into words online or on paper than it is for me to say them out loud. Perhaps because saying it out loud would force me to come to terms with half of the lemons life has handed me. So here I am turning those lemons into lemonade the best way I know how, writing my journey and inspiring other struggling victims and parents.