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If you've read any of my pieces in the past you probably know I'm a childhood trauma survivor. I grew up in an extremely dysfunctional, abusive and terrifying home.
Life started out a bit more average. I was basically raised by my grandmother during the weekdays. I stayed with her while both my parents worked, until her passing in 1987. I was very close to her and her death was hard on me.
My twin stayed with my maternal grandparents during the day when our parents worked.
When our brother began watching us, when we were nine-years-old, and he was 14, things dramatically changed.
This brings me to the entire purpose of this. One of the biggest parts of my therapy, and psychiatric treatment overall, has been learning what "normal" is. I know, seems simple enough, but for childhood trauma survivors it's not.
I am talking about how those of us, particularly as children, with early and long term trauma (abuse, neglect, rape, etcetera) learn to interact with our peers, surroundings, and how we often accept further abuse. What we learn during crucial developmental stages stays with us and molds our adult selves.
In the instances where there was deep, long term trauma and abuse, what we learn is anything but normal.
I learned some extremely helpful things in childhood. I try to remember that. I try to remind myself basic life skills I would need later were learned long before most children ever needed to learn them.
For instance, how to wash my own clothes at nine, how to cook for my twin and I at 11, and how to regulate my sister's and my own schedule for school work, bath time, etcetera. All before I left fourth grade.
I learned these things younger than most. Helpful as it was, it wasn't learned for the fun of it, I learned these things out of necessity. Because if I didn't, odds were pretty good these things would go undone.
We, my twin sister and I, needed routine but all we got was disorder, abuse, rape and torture.
My mom worked long hours to keep some things running. She was manipulative, but she also had empathy and tried to give us the best birthdays, holidays and so on.
My father had lost his insurance salesman job. His alcoholism and need for extramarital activity caused this, he refused to accept responsibility for that one. Instead he got excessively drunk and chased us into rooms with loaded shotguns.
When you're a child you are not suppose to be cooking dinner for your twin, helping her with her homework, or reminding her it's bath time. It's not the average upbringing one has.
To give an example of the abnormal things I learned. I recall one afternoon after school, a utility worker was in our front yard ready to disconnect our lights. I stood on porch sobbing and begging the man not to cut the lights...because my twin and I were alone and scared to be in the dark. We were about nine-years-old. He didn't cut the lights. Obviously he took pity on us. I will never forget his kindness.
My parents came home at the usual nine or 10 at night, I informed them of the entire situation. Instead of apologizing for failing to prioritize bills, they asked me why I didn't "ask that guy for an extension!?"
(Oh geez I don't know mom and dad, guess I just sucked as a NINE YEAR OLD CHILD! )
This was commonplace. Irresponsible, mismanagement of money, excuses that always deflected the blame to someone else.
I and my sibling learned this. Let me be clear my brother is not included in my story as a sibling. He was a psychopath. While we were dealing with the neglect we also dealt with his abuse, sexual assault, torture and so forth. I do not associate with him. I refuse. I call him brother only to identify him in my story. That's it.
When I talk about the "normal" a lot of children learn, and the "normal" abused/neglected children learn, I am referring to the way we view the world due to what we were exposed to, as stated above.
An article in Psychology Today¹ points out:
"When children witness or experience abuse, it can have a detrimental effect on their well being as an adult. Their experiences have been linked to the development of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, as well as eating disorders later in life. Early exposure can also place individuals at a higher risk of experiencing abusive relationships in the future."
This is what I have lived. In my teens and early 20s I accepted unwanted groping, I was raped as a young woman but never said anything. It was expected, I had "no right to refuse." I accepted being punched, smacked and cheated on. I was the embodiment of my traumas. I was defined by that "normal."
We (my twin and I) never learned security. I never learned how to regulate emotions in healthy ways. I learned to live in fear, anxiety, nervousness, etcetera. Sadly, some of us learn self harm, some learn drugs and alcohol, some hide in unfulfilling sex, in abusive relationships, and some hide emotionally until it surfaces with tragic results.
It's different for every person. But rest assured without proper therapy and treatment, most trauma survivors will identify unhealthy ways of coping with the aftermath of trauma.
I have somewhat lost my twin, not totally, but she will never be the same. She was my very first best friend, my twin, other half, we spoke of living together forever, kept the monsters away at bedtime together, and comforted each other after being raped and beaten. I will never forgive my brother for taking so much from us. I have forgiven my parents, but I hold them accountable for my sister's issues.
She made bad choices and obviously that's on her, but they never gave her the help she needed so desperately. My dad continues to this day with verbal and emotional abuse, she turned to sex and drugs to fight the memories. I have tremendous guilt because I got out, got help. She did not.
I miss my twin, my best friend, my other half. And I'm angry, hurt, heart broken and yes, bitter. I'm working on that.
At my current age (38) I am learning what is actually normal. I am beginning to voice my anger and sadness. I speak openly now. I share my story. My voice has power. I know now that it was unacceptable that I was abused, terrorized, raped, and neglected. I know it led me to believe this treatment was normal for so long.
But not anymore!
When childhood trauma survivors read these kinds of articles they immediately get it. What the author means by my "normal" being different than yours.
It's not a pity party, an "attention grab," or anyone saying "look how special I am"... It's just truth. Our story told. It's me saying that if you are a victim/survivor of childhood trauma and are still in that phase of living that "normal" there is a way to get out.
Therapy, treatment for any psychological conditions that were caused by your traumas or medically caused imbalances. Getting help for your anxiety, mood, personality disorders and so forth. Getting those treatments underway can help you begin to tell your story, which can empower you and help you find your voice. I'm not a licensed therapist. I'm just giving you information on the steps I've taken and am still taking.
It's not okay what we endured. It was unfair. It was damaging. But we still have time to turn this around. To reclaim our selves. To learn a new normal. To live.
Me at 38, getting stronger, using my voice.
¹ Psychology Today https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/talking-about-trauma/201601/trauma-survivors-risk-future-abusive-relationships%3famp