How Sharing My Traumatic Stories Helps Me Heal
I never realized I was struggling with mental illness until I started having panic attacks. A month passed before I realized these were panic attacks. At first, I thought I had anxiety, and the stress from my job made it worse. I was a bouncer at a nightclub surrounded by drunken fools, many of which used alcohol to overcome their own anxieties. I removed myself from that situation and eliminated many other stresses in my life. I felt I was improving but still had a long journey ahead. I felt good and optimistic until the repressed memories resurfaced.
I hadn’t fully looked at the trauma from my childhood. It was worse than I remembered and what I remembered was worse than I thought. The only true memory I have of the trauma was the first incident. I was 4, my father was drunk and beat my mother. I have no memories before this and only a few spotty memories shortly after. I thought lack of childhood memories was normal, but most of mine are repressed. The epiphany came when my sister shared her memories. She is 4 years older, and her memories from that long ago are clearer.
She told me about a time when she was 10. She sat on the couch watching cartoons as our mother sat next to her reading. Our father came home and started screaming at our mother. She screamed back. My sister turned up the volume on the TV and continued watching cartoons. Our father sat on the other side of my sister, and our parents continued screaming at each other. The argument became so heated, our father put his arm in front of my sister to choke our mother. My sister sat up a little more to look over his arm so she could continue watching cartoons.
This is a perfect example of how common violence was growing up in our home. My own memories returning and hearing my sister’s memories created an existential crisis. Everything about my personality I felt made me unique and set me apart from everyone else were only symptoms. Most of my personality traits were caused by Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I’ve had to search for new ways to identify myself. I didn’t know who I was for a brief time. I’m doing better, but I’m still re-establishing my personal identity.
This can make it difficult to make connections with other people when I’m still trying to reconnect with myself. When I do make connections, I fear they’ll leave like so many others have. I fear they’ll push me away or I’ll push them away. Talking about and writing about my experiences helps me reclaim ownership and identity. Some people don’t like talking about their trauma, and that’s okay too. I need to tell people about my trauma, or I’ll feel I have no purpose. I write to have a purpose. I write to feel I belong. I write to be identified. Everyone’s healing process is different.
By James Pack
Photo Credit: Elijah O’Donell