Trauma is not always just the result of a major event in our lives, like being a victim of sexual abuse, domestic violence, abandonment as a child, witnessing the tragic loss of a loved one or the intergenerational substance abuse passed from parent to child to grandchild etc. Trauma can be brought on by much smaller events that we tend to minimize because on the outside they appear to be minor and not worthy of notice. Think about those horrible things that I just mentioned. Those are things that really f**k people up, right? They are the things we can’t blame people for trying to escape from, through self-medication, acting out, or getting caught up in the devastating cycle of addictive behavior. They are the people we must show compassion towards, not those tormented by the small little incident with a bully on the playground that happened years ago, or the betrayal by a best friend who stole your beau in high school or the criticism coming from a boss, spouse or loved one over something you already regret doing. Those are inconsequential events that we just need to suck up and stop victimizing about because to do otherwise is selfish and weak. Or so we surmise.
I remember when I was 5 years old and in kindergarten. I had a best friend, at least I always referred to her that way, who would play with me all the time when we weren’t in school. We had tea parties, played in the park, shared our toys with each other, and imagined faraway places with princesses and fairies. It was magical. Yet in school, (we sat kiddy corner to each other), she would always stick her tongue out at me every time I would glance her way. Of course, all the other kids would silently laugh. I was devastated and overcome with shame. I felt I could tell no one and suffered in my little 5-year-old psyche with something that ripped me apart at my core. That fear and sense of rejection followed me my entire life. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names (or a stuck-out tongue) will never hurt me”. At least I should pretend that it didn’t. So, over the years, anything I perceived as rejection came flooding back to me in that “feeling” of being ripped apart. It left me with a lump in my throat so big I couldn’t speak. I would valiantly try to hold back my tears and the need to outwardly sob. It lived perilously under the surface of my consciousness ready to manifest itself in over reactive bouts of anger and intoxication. For most of my life, I was not able to attach the feeling to the time, person, or place I would later associate it with, because in my mind, it was a small thing and after all, I had a really good childhood, parents who loved me and made sure I was safe. I had nothing to complain about and surely that event was just a normal childhood experience. To say that what I went through was traumatizing would be selfish and take away from those who were true victims.
Through out my life what I did not realize was that trauma comes in all shapes and sizes and is a deeply personal experience. I took no notice of the wounded little girl who still lived within the recesses of my mind never able to grow up. She was perpetually stuck in a long-ago time constantly reliving that “feeling” of being ripped apart, crying out in the dark with no one to hear her.
My life changed when I acknowledged that little girl and her shame. When I was able to open my heart and be with her, feel her pain with her, embrace her, comfort her, and love her not as a flawed person, but as an innocent child created in the image and likeness of God, I was able to heal, find sobriety, and create a new life filled with joy and purpose. I was able to help her grow up and welcome the vulnerability she brought into my life as a gift that enabled me to find a connection to myself that is steeped in loving-kindness and oneness with humanity.