How I Found Forgiveness After My Trauma-Fueled Childhood

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“Trauma is a funny thing. Trauma is defined as damage or injury to the psyche after living through an extremely frightening or distressing event. That definition feels very noncommittal to me, because it could apply to so many things in our lives.

It could be a bad experience at the dentist, a car accident, having an embarrassing moment in high school, or even worse and usually unmentioned, being violated by someone you trust. Most of us, at one point or another in our lives, have experienced trauma, even if it was too small in our eyes to realize.

In October, I had a therapy evaluation, as well as a psychiatric evaluation, and was diagnosed with PTSD. I remember thinking, ‘I am 28 years old, I have never been aware of these problems before, and what kind of trauma could I have possibly experienced?’ Turns out, a lot.

The traumas I have gone through I suppressed because I didn’t want to feel those feelings; I didn’t want to take the time to be sad or accept the things in my life that were traumatic. One quote I read in October after my PTSD diagnosis really stuck with me. It said, ‘People try to bottle up their emotions, as if it’s somehow wrong to have natural reactions to life.’

Mind blown.

Why are we bottling up emotions? Why am I, World’s Most Sensitive Human (in the very loving words of my husband), bottling up my emotions? I talk 50 miles per hour beginning the second I step out of bed, and I have absolutely no filter, but I can’t just come out and talk about my feelings? They are meant to be expressed, and that’s literally what feelings are there for!

Why should we feel shame, when most times, the traumatic experiences that have happened to us are in no way our faults? They have just deeply affected us to the point we feel our feelings are invalid or unimportant. With this diagnosis, everything in the last 20 years of my life made sense.

Immediately, I was able to understand why I had stomach-sickening reactions to needles and to hearing stories about assault survivors. Everything clicked, and then I knew it was time to jump into those traumas and begin the healing process.

So, what are some of your traumas? They could be big or small, important or unimportant to you. Something as simple as a bad grade or driving in a snowstorm causes me trauma. It feels like it is always there, no matter what.

The first trauma I experienced was my father and his lifestyle, and this was at such a young age when it began. When I was two, my mom took me and we moved to safety. We moved away from my funny, loving, and beautiful father, who was well-liked by everyone he met, and who I know loved me more than anything on this planet.

My dad was a heroin addict. His addiction made him angry, aggressive, and unable to process his real life. I can still remember visiting him after moving and witnessing drug usage no one should have to witness, much less a child my age. I watched him fade away into a lifeless no one.

At four years old, you don’t understand it’s wrong, or it’s a disease. It becomes your normal, which I know my mom was trying to keep me from. Looking back and now being a mom, I could not imagine ever exposing my children to something like that.

Which comes to the disease that is drug addiction. And that is exactly what it is: a disease.

Courtesy of Rye Hunt

It starts out fun, then it becomes a habit, and at some point down the road there is no escaping it—the heroin has you and you will do anything it wants you to. Imagine giving your life to a drug that gives you one hour, at best, of euphoria, and without even realizing not only is it killing the addict, but it’s killing their loved ones as well.

Looking at his pictures from before his addiction began to when he was right in the middle of it—it took the light out of his eyes and smile. He wasn’t the goofy and loving dad I was used to seeing in pictures with my mom. I was no longer enough to make him happy; it was only the drugs. He was unstable, he could not continue to have contact with me because of the aggressive state he settled into.

I missed him. Something I never tangibly had but wanted so badly. My dad. My mom did what she thought was best, and as a mom I agree with her decisions to remove me from that situation. But as his child I still hold some resentment, because I wanted time with him so badly.

I remember thinking maybe if he had more time with me, he could see what he was missing. I remember seeing him parked in front of our house, knowing he could not see me and waving to him from our balcony. I remember thinking, ‘Please just come hug me one last time.’

I’m eight now, and my mom calls me inside from playing with my friends. And she was honest, maybe too honest, with an eight-year-old, but I appreciated it. She tells me my dad was using drugs and, in the end, they killed him. He died alone of a heroin overdose. I can’t even imagine the kind of head space you’d have to be in to be okay with dying all alone that way.

Slowly the breath begins to escape your lungs, but you can’t inhale. You’re suffocating and nothing will stop it. Could he feel it happening? Did he know it was how his story was ending? Why wasn’t he with someone to comfort him through his final minutes on this planet? And as I recalled this day with my psychiatrist just a few short weeks ago, it hit me.

It took me 20 years to realize, in the first eight years of my life, at some point, I did hug my dad for the very last time without even knowing it. And it would have to be enough for the rest of my life. Trauma.

In the first eight years of my life, I lived through my parents’ divorce, bouncing from house to house, a drug-addicted parent, and a not-so-shocking heroin overdose. Trauma. Throughout the years I’ve struggled with his loss, and I still do. I blamed myself most of those years, just wondering why I couldn’t be enough.

Now that I am older and understand this disease more, I realize there was nothing anyone could do unless he wanted help, and he didn’t. Waking up to my own children every morning gives me a high I can’t explain, and there is no drug out there that could even compare to it.

As I continued to grow up, his memory was there, always. It was a constant. And the older I became, the more curious I was. I researched and learned about drug addiction starting at a young age. I knew things most twelve-year-olds couldn’t even imagine.

For example, did you know if a heroin addict has blown all the veins in their track-mark-ridden arms, even if they have an abscess from the drug usage, which could kill them from infection, they will continue injecting anywhere on their body they can, such as their neck or between their toes?

Imagine putting your body through all this trauma for one hour of euphoria, and once it ends, your body will need more and more to even touch the previous high you just experienced. No one wants that life.

My father’s death has made such an impact on my life, and even though it’s traumatic for me, it has also been good for me. How can your dad dying be good for you, you ask? Because at twelve years old, through all my research, I found addictive genes can be passed down through your family. And because of this, I avoided drugs and alcohol because I knew I was susceptible to repeating my dad’s lifestyle which was cut short by addiction.

I didn’t want that for me. I wanted the family I never had, and I wanted to be happy every day. And while I have been lucky enough to create the family I never had and have always wanted, I am not happy every day. And that’s okay. Because who is, really? It just isn’t realistic, but that is what feelings are, to FEEL. Mental illness or not, you have good days and your bad days.

I’m 24 now, married and pregnant with our first children, boy/girl twins set to arrive right after Christmas. We could not be happier. But there it is, in the back of my head: anger. Anger can be a funny thing, too. It can come at any time, without warning, for an array of reasons.

In the back of my head was the grudge I held against my dad for leaving me. I didn’t have enough time with him. How would I know how my husband was supposed to be a father to our children? How can I be a good mom when I feel so dented on the inside? How could I be sure I wouldn’t abandon my children the way he abandoned me?

For the 38 weeks I carried our twins, I couldn’t forgive my dad for leaving this planet, leaving me behind and not being here for the birth of his only grandchildren. They would have loved him. They would have laughed with him and gotten away with murder. But more importantly, he would’ve loved them.

He would’ve seen so much of me in both of them, and in my wildest dreams he would’ve turned his life around, started an amazing, sober life, and realized how much he regretted missing watching me grow up. He would’ve had another chance; I would’ve had another chance. Maybe he would’ve saved me from the unavoidable traumas that occurred through my life, and I wouldn’t feel this way all the time.

All of my friends who have been raised with their dads in their life describe the love of a father, and how it differs so much from a mother’s love. How their dad is their hero, how he is so strong, and he supports them through everything life throws their way. I’ve never had that.

My uncles accompanied me to every ‘Donuts with Dad’ day at school. He wasn’t here to teach me how to change a tire (and I know my uncles have tried, but I just don’t get it—I’m calling a tow truck). He wasn’t there to scare off my high school boyfriends (who really should’ve been scared off). But somehow, he still was my hero.

He gave me a new perspective on mental health and drug addiction to recount throughout my entire life. He made me realize sometimes a kind, helping hand can go so far with people. We are all human, why can’t we just love and help each other?

He made me realize at such a young age I wanted to help people with drug addictions. I wanted to be the reason they were able to get sober, even though I wasn’t enough reason to him to get sober. And that’s okay. Because forgiveness goes a long way, and as much as I miss him, I am no longer angry.

Holding those angry feelings in and holding onto grudges uses up so much of your energy, energy you need to build and maintain healthy relationships. Instead, I look at the positive. Like how my dad sits on top of my fridge and watches over me and my babies all day long (creepy, I know. But hey, that marble urn is heavy, and there’s no where else for him to sit comfortably).

I know he is keeping us safe. I know I got his sense of humor, because my mom just isn’t this funny. (Kidding, mom. I love you!) I know for a fact my dad’s hands may possibly be the only feature of his I have to show, and I passed his hands to my beautiful son, who surprisingly looks more like him than I do.

I know anytime a Nirvana song comes on the radio and my twins begin to dance and head-bang, it’s definitely him making sure they know all the classics. I know every time I am out and about, and I find a dime, he’s saying hello. At least, I like to think that. I’ve found comfort in him being gone, even though I still miss him every second, minute, and hour of the day. That won’t go away, but finding the positive and a reason to smile through something as traumatic as that helps you cope.

As an amazingly beautiful friend I made in treatment said to me, ‘You are exactly where you are meant to be.’ And I think this goes for everyone, living or passed.”

Courtesy of Rye Hunt

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Rye Hunt. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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