Fazing my therapist

My childhood sucked. I knew it then, I know it now.

I’ve been working with my current therapist for over four years. She specializes in trauma processing and we’ve spoken at length about some of the atrocities in my life. But with all of her experience, it is hard to faze her.

Until this week.

We’ve been preparing to resume trauma processing and focus on the period of my childhood that was the most difficult- ages 8 to 13 or 4th to 8th grade.

We began by talking about that time frame. I mostly shared what I recalled about day-to-day life as well as larger life events like my Dad being out of work, my mother’s health deteriorating, family transitions, etc.

At the time, I thought my grandparents and my paternal aunt were the safe people. I know better now, so it’s uniquely difficult to revisit those jumbled memories. The trauma I experienced makes those memories feel real to me, not just recollections so the battle between my skewed reality in those days and my understanding now of the bad things they did is a wretched place to be. Hence the need to process.

Still, my innerself was whispering to me that these things didn’t seem so bad, after all I had survived them. Lots of kids had it much worse. I went to college and graduate school. I’m not broken – I’m on a People of the Year list with Beyonce. As we wrapped up the session, I said to her “Maybe it wasn’t so bad after all.” She looked up from her reams of notes and said “Oh, this is very bad.”

Strangely perhaps, her confirmation was comforting. I’m not distorting or exaggerating. I’m not misremembering. I don’t need to just let it go. I need to confront and deal with it.

A 2021 study published by the National Institute of Health found the prevalence of physical abuse, sexual abuse, and witnessed intimate partner violence were more common in Generation X than others. More than half of the sample had exposure to both childhood abuse/neglect and household dysfunction.

There’s a scale of Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES) that is used to assess 10 types of childhood abuse. The higher the score, the more vulnerable the child is to experience physical and emotional consequences as an adult. My ACES score is 8.

Approximately 42% had an ACE score of 0, followed by 22.9% (1 ACE), 12.8% (2 ACEs), 8.2% (3 ACEs), 5.7% (4 ACEs), 3.8% (5 ACEs), 2.3% (6 ACEs), 1.2% (7 ACEs), and 0.3% (8 ACEs)

There are other scales used to assess childhood experience including the PEARLS assessment and tools to assess present-day functioning as well. My scores are not great there which is odd since I’m usually great at taking tests.

It is also slightly odd to feel so calm in the face of something that promises to be truly awful. The last thing I want to do is revisit 7th grade, a very typical aversion shared with most people. But I know that trauma processing does help manage that awfulness so I feel more confident about this leg of the journey. I have faith I will ultimately feel better.

And frankly I’m tired of shoving it all down inside of me. I’m tired of the sad memories overwhelming the good ones. I’m tired of the impact on my physical health. And I’m tired of feeling like ‘just living with it’ is the only option. I don’t want to be a modern martyr. I want to at least be in charge of how my end of life decades go.

Pushing stuff down inside and not thinking about it is a survival skill that many of us rely upon to simply reach adulthood. But thriving skills require us to process that stuff however best we can.

Three types of adversity that make for a tough childhood. Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Credit: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

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