Chronic childhood trauma often results in a cluster of symptoms (not quite) official recognized as Complex PTSD.
Complex PTSD (cPTSD) differs from its well known cousin, PTSD, because the flashbacks are not always visual ones. Due to the chronic nature of the trauma experienced, people suffering from cPTSD have emotional flashbacks.
What is an emotional flashback? It’s when some situation in the present triggers the return of the feelings of shame, terror and/or intense anxiety experienced during past traumatic events.
Before I knew what an emotional flashback was, I thought I was just crazy. Just knowing what was happening to me saved me from heaping even more feelings of shame and powerlessness onto what I was already experiencing.
But, I remember the time before I understood what was going on within me. It was a very dark time. I frequently punished myself for feeling the way I did. And I’d end up feeling even more worthless. More anxious. More ashamed.
Once I recognized my emotional flashbacks for what they were, I started to understand just how terrified of a little girl I once was. And suddenly, repressed memories started to surface. That sh*t is scary. To live as long as I did without being able to recall why I often felt so terrified and alone….
I don’t blame my father for what he did to me and my sisters. I did, in the past, and it did not result in the healing and recovery I so desperately desired.
I am, naturally, a very empathic person. It’s in my genes, I believe, to be so concerned with those outside of me. Being angry and hate-filled was warranted for a time– it helped separate me from enmeshment in my family of origin. But, it did not bring healing.
Last year, while on the phone with my now elderly father, something happened that I never dreamed would occur. He apologized for my childhood. For reals. Now, the healing wasn’t instantaneous. But something changed in me.
The only reason that I received this apology from my pedophile father, was because I had followed that still small Voice in my heart when it told me to support my father in the time of his need. I rented our house to him when we moved out of state 2 years back, after he had gotten kicked out of his apartment. When he had no other place to go. My pain said “No!”, but that Voice told me “Yes would be better for you”. And I chose the “yes” out of obedience to this inner Wisdom.
After the apology, the Voice changed my direction. Whatever needed to happen between me and my father had happened, and I was free to cut him out of my life. So, I did.
How many survivors of incest get a heartfelt apology from their abuser? Well, me. But, I almost missed it.
I would be lying to you if I told you that my father wasn’t blessed by God. However abusive he was to me, I always knew in my heart that he was especially sensitive to the Holy Spirit. It was only in the times that he reacted to the world in a narcissistic rage towards God that my siblings and I suffered.
Not that I want to somehow excuse the abusive effects of an abusive person, but, my father never had a chance at discovering his real personhood. He was born to an unwed mother, in the midst of WWII, and raised in an institutional orphanage for the first 18 months of his life. Then, he was adopted by a woman who was herself the victim of incest at the hands of her esteemed Uncle. And she hated my father. From young on.
What stands out to me the most, in recalling this true story, is my father’s own forgiveness of his adoptive mother as he entered his golden years. My adoptive Grandmother was hateful, spiteful, incredibly physically, emotionally and sexually abusive to my father, by all accounts. And yet, my father was able to find forgiveness for her. He found compassion for her.
Certainly, I can find the strength and courage to forgive my father. Knowing I had the most attentive, self-sacrificing mother that a woman could hope to have in my situation, I, of all people, have no reason to hold transgressions against anyone. Boundaries? Yes. Blame and shame? No. Those two never entered into my process of healing. Because Christ.
Flash forward to today. Where I am a 30-something wife and mother to four. My family is far from perfect, but we all speak the language of compassion. No one suffers abuse here. Even though (or maybe, because?) my husband and I are both survivors. We refuse to perpetuate the cycles of abuse that entangled our ancestors. At any cost.
Because we are so intent on breaking past cycles, we are rarely, if ever, allowed to rest upon our laurels as parents. This World is abusive. As are many of the people within it. Abuse has already touched our family from without it. As it does so very many other families.
The moment that I forget where I come from; Or forget the agonizing journey I made from victim to survivor, is the moment that evil wins.
As long as my heart remains open, and my spirit willing, I will never forget what it feels like to be truly powerless in the face of ungodly terror. It is the thorn in my side. The marks of suffering, the scars Jesus still bore even after His resurrection.
My scars keep me aware of the suffering that continues all around me in a fallen world. As long as I still bear them, no one truly oppressed, powerless, and victimized that crosses my path will ever go without human comfort. I will not close my eyes, but instead, open my arms. Because that’s what Christ has done for me.
In my 30-some years, I have never regretted showing compassion to others when I felt compassion in my heart.
I’m not going to start now. I’m not going to let the weak, the abusive, nor the *ssh*les change my heart for the world. Try to hurt me if you must. Try to censor me if you can. But “let no man bring me harm, I bear the marks of Jesus“.