After reading the title of this post, I know what you’re thinking. How could anyone possibly be thankful for childhood trauma? But I am. And believe me, I of all people would have never ever imagined I’d write those words.
My personal experience came in the form of physical and emotional abuse. I won’t get into the intense details, but between the ages of 5 through 13, I lived with a violent, alcoholic step-father. I spent almost a decade walking on eggshells, fearing for my own life and the life of my mum; Witnessing her being assaulted on a regular basis by the man I was supposed to call “dad”. Basically, my childhood was one big blur of blood, bruises and police call-outs. Thankfully, we managed to get out when I was thirteen (meaning we literally packed what we could into suitcases and fled). Mum filed for divorce and we eventually settled into life as a family of three – me, mum and my little brother, Theo.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t happily ever after. When you experience something so extreme, it’s impossible to not be changed or shaped differently in some way. Inevitably, I have suffered ill mental and physical health well into my adolescent and adult years. Along with these negative effects came the feeling that I was “messed up” A.K.A – the girl with too much baggage. There were (many) days during my teen years, where I looked at myself and genuinely hated who I had become. The simplest of everyday situations became a battle as PTSD (among other things) took hold. I felt like a fragile, empty shell of a person. Constantly comparing myself to my friends and wondering why I wasn’t more like them – more confident, more trusting, more carefree. As hard as I tried to “forget it” and “move on”, the relentless anxiety and painful memories continued to haunt me. I would angrily question God, “Why was I given this life?”. I hated it. I hated my step-dad and I hated myself. I pined for the girl I could have been, had my childhood been different, had it been “normal”. If you’re reading this and my words ring true for you, if my pain echoes your own… if you too are harbouring anger and resentment toward yourself or your past. The words below are for you. Read them and let them sink in deeply…
“In order to love who you are, you cannot hate the experiences that shaped you.”
I came across this quote last year and it hit me hard. I had spent so much time loathing my childhood and the negative ways it had shaped me, I had completely failed to acknowledge all of the other aspects of myself. The pain I experienced as a child had ‘messed me up’ in many ways. But in that moment, I realised it also did other things. Really, really good things…
Experiencing the horror of domestic violence taught me to be kind. Not just a standard “being a good person” kind. But a genuine loving care for people, knowing that their past could be as painful as my own. Perhaps even more importantly, it gave me empathy. There is a huge difference between feeling sorry for someone’s pain and actually feeling someone’s pain. When I hear or read stories of people who have experienced trauma, I physically feel it. It hurts like a knife in the pit of my stomach. My palms sweat and my knees go weak. I feel it so strongly it can sometimes be overwhelming. But I could not be more grateful to now have the ability to connect with others in this way. How incredible to go beyond “I’m sorry” and instead be able to say “I understand, because I too have walked in those shoes.” And above all, experiencing trauma gave me a passion and desire to help other people. These are some of my best qualities… and yet they were all birthed out of my worst moments. After coming to this realisation, I started looking at myself and my life (past, present and future), a lot differently.
“If you can perceive stressors in your past, as catalysts to your growing into who you hope to become, that reframing can be a critical step in your personal journey in healing, forgiveness and transformation.” -Donna Nakawaza, Childhood Disrupted
This quote is from a book I read recently, by an award-winning researcher, Donna Nakawaza (a must-read for anyone who had a traumatic childhood btw!). Her research shows it’s not actually a stressful experience that causes us harm; it’s our reaction to that feeling of stress that is most harmful. Although we can’t change our past reactions, we do have the ability to choose how we respond to hurtful memories when they pop up in the future. It is easy to look back on painful experiences and feel angry and hurt, or simply wish they never happened in the first place. Unfortunately, the reality is this: bad things have happened and will continue to happen to us all… but it’s what we do with the negatives that make all the difference. I have learned on my journey to healing, that by accepting our broken bits, we really can use them for good. Never underestimate the power of your past and the ability to change lives with your story. Within your deepest hurt, lies your greatest strength. There are people who will connect and relate to you in a way that others can’t, purely because of the trials you have faced. Your past qualifies you to reach out and touch the lives of those who would otherwise feel totally alone in their pain. Others can find healing in your wounds if you allow them to.
Others can find healing in your wounds, if you allow them to.
For me, this is the reason I can now confidently say: I truly am thankful for my traumatic childhood. And although I still have moments of sadness and grief for the girl I could have been, they quickly pass as I’m reminded of the power my past holds and the passion it has given me. Because of the things I have faced, my life’s goal is simply to help and connect with others (hence, why I started a blog!). And while it feels very vulnerable to be putting this out into the world and writing a single post on these difficult topics takes me forever… I’m happy to voluntarily put myself on the emotional rollercoaster if it means even one person could read my blog and feel less alone.
I know there is hope, for any of you who may be reading this that have experienced similar pain. Because I no longer question “Why is this my life?”. And I no longer wish that I could change it. Instead, I’m choosing every day to be thankful that I went through it, for the positive things that have come from it all – and the positive things that are still yet to come. I hope you can reach this place too. I’m believing that despite the darkness in the past – the future is bright. For me, and for you.