The first time I sat down on a therapist’s couch, I didn’t really know why I was there. My Grammy had asked me to talk to someone before undergoing exploratory surgery to find the cause of the extreme pain in my right hip/thigh that had me taking a lot of pain killers and still unable to walk. The medical doctors had done what they could. So, surgery. But, please before surgery talk to someone, she had said. So I did. And I sat down on her couch, and “I am angry at my father” exploded out of me. I didn’t know I was. I knew my leg hurt. I had no clue I was angry. I told her the skeleton of my story and at the end of the session, she said “this is child abuse. You went through child abuse.” My leg never hurt again.
I was 22 years old. And I had just had the kaleidoscope of my life turned; there was no going back. My childhood wasn’t normal. I had been abused. I, like all children, was incredibly vulnerable to abuse; children naturally think that their lives are normal and that the things that happen are because of them. This is how children’s brains are wired.
Flash forward more than a decade. I was 33. I was a small press book publisher, and I worked with my mother running the press my grandparents had started. I was passionate about the work; midwifing people’s books into the world. I was good at it; I was starting to be recognized at a national level. And then it all ended. In one horrible phone call, I lost my career, my job, and my family. I had somehow until now not seen the abuse my mother was continuing to perpetrate on me.
I still struggle with this. I didn’t see the reality of how she treated me until I was 33 years old. And I’m a smart person. But I was still trapped in that normal of the abused child, until I couldn’t be. And the ripping away was more than I could bear. I couldn’t leave the house. I would start shaking violently. A few times I thought to try to talk to my mother, I would start driving toward her and spike a fever. I was terrified of everything. Everyone. I was quickly diagnosed with PTSD. Because I’d lost my job, and couldn’t quickly get another one that paid similar, we had to declare bankruptcy. I was ashamed; I’d run a business, a really hard business for years, but I couldn’t manage my own (or at least that’s what I told myself).
I had a running argument in my head, “I won’t be a therapist. I don’t want to be a therapist.” But it finally occurred to me, since no one was telling me to be a therapist, I probably needed to stop arguing with myself. I applied to grad school, knowing I would never get accepted. I was. I was applying for jobs frantically. The folks at the unemployment office told me if I wanted to get a job, I needed 10 applications to get 1 interview and 10 interviews to get 1 job. I did the math; I applied for over 400 jobs. I got 15. The summer before therapy school started I was frantically juggling 15 jobs. I was ashamed and not good enough for anything. Such was the trauma that ran deep through my body.
I went to my therapist and I said “I got accepted into grad school. I don’t want to visit my trauma on the folks I help. We gotta get it out now.” She laughed so hard. But I did spend my two years of grad school trying to make sense of my story.
I wish I could say it was uphill from there, but trauma is a sneaky liar who comes up when I think I’m okay and reminds me of what could happen. It wasn’t until I trained in EMDR and then sought out EMDR for myself that much of the trauma could be “done.” Still now it sneaks sometimes. And whispers I’m not good enough, or that I’m a bother to the folks around me, or other stories my parents taught me.
I know trauma. I know it’s systemic and intergenerational. I know that most folks have experienced some. I know some of what my parents experienced. I am a therapist. And a good one, I think, because of what I went through. And I fight for my people and their stories, because I needed someone to battle with me and for me. We all do.