Words helped to make sense of the trauma that was impacting her life.
By Kathy Parker
People speak of defining moments in their lives, exact seconds, or minutes that change everything. There are very few of those moments that stand out amid the murky fog that has clouded most of my existence.
I do remember the moment my world collapsed. Cracked foundations held my life together by a façade of perfectionism and chameleon walls. I left home as a young teenager after my mother invited her boyfriend over to “teach me a lesson” for being rude to her. My mother stood back and watched him beat me, just as she had stood back and watched my stepfather rape me. Sometimes she was lost to alcohol, and sometimes she was not. But always, she was the one whose betrayal left more scars than any abuse ever could.
I dealt with the trauma through denial and an impenetrable mask of perfectionism. Though I lived in a hostel, I excelled in school. I married young, worked hard, and had children. From the outside, I had a perfect life. It was an illusion that took an exhausting amount of control to maintain. My trauma lurked beneath the surface, affecting my relationships and creating issues that continued to get worse over time. I knew it was there, yet refused to acknowledge it. Until the moment.
My third child—my first daughter—was wrapped in a towel, clean, the smell of baby shampoo close to my nose as I breathed her in. She was naked, innocent, and vulnerable. Within me rose the fierceness of a lioness heart. I would protect this child no matter what, no matter how much it would hurt me, no matter if it cost my life. I was never protected. I was an innocent child used for the sexual gratification of a grown man, while those who should have protected me chose to look away.
At that moment, my world unraveled. The years of trauma stored in my mind and body released. I didn’t want to deal with it. I developed myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) and fibromyalgia, and eventually autoimmune disease. I went through a complete mental, physical, and emotional breakdown. My choice was to give up or fight for the life I deserved. That was ten years ago.
Those years were the hardest years of my life. I fell apart as I self-destructed and caused destruction to everyone around me. I had to break before I could heal. I was diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which manifested mostly as disassociation. Physically, I was there for my family. Emotionally, I was unavailable. I spent days, weeks, and months lost in a fog. Yet other days, I was so hypervigilant I could be awake for days straight, consumed with irrational fears, anxieties, and conspiracy theories, obsessed with how to keep my family safe.
It took me a long time to acknowledge my PTSD. It felt like a shame, failure, and defeat. I couldn’t speak of it out loud. So I began to write about it instead. And with that, something inside of me began to shift. Words poured out. Sentences stitched broken pieces together; paragraphs helped to make sense of the trauma I had experienced. It was the beginning of my healing.
These days, I function well most of the time. I speak out on how PTSD affects my life. I write to break the silence and make others feel less alone. Writing has been my way back to life. Other factors have been equally as important. Proper nutrition had a profound impact on reducing the severity of my brain fog. (The Paleo Diet worked for me.) Exercise has been significant, too. I have found too much causes my ME/CFS symptoms to flare, and not enough has a profound impact on my mental health. Yoga, which I do two to three times a week, helps tremendously. The art of breathing and meditation has turned my mind into calm, peace, and provided healing to my mind and body.
I practice mindful living, remembering to be present at the moment. I’m aware of my thoughts and emotions, embracing them for what they are and working through them, as well as letting go of negative thoughts and feelings, letting go of past mistakes and regrets, learning to live with love, kindness, and compassion. Grounding techniques are also crucial to my everyday life: learning to recognize when I begin to disassociate, and before I go too far into that, finding something that “grounds” me. This will be different for everyone. For me, it’s nature, walking outside with my bare feet on the grass, feeling the earth beneath me, holding me, supporting me, her energy rising within me.
These things are all self-care, which is something I now understand to be vital to the process of healing, which also includes setting ethical boundaries and walking away from toxic people and relationships. Maybe I will never be fully healed and whole. Perhaps I will always bleed from wounds that won’t entirely heal. Maybe I will always be a little broken. But maybe broken is its own kind of beautiful. Reasonably it’s the beauty of a warrior’s heart, one that has fought many battles and survived — broken, yes. However, never defeated.