When God began to heal me, I encountered many women’s stories much like mine. The realization that I was not alone brought comfort as I grieved the loss of my former stage identity.
Today I’d like to introduce Tanya Stewart, childhood trauma survivor and clinically trained Occupational Therapist. She lives in Calgary, Alberta with her 11-year-old daughter. Her story is oh, so familiar. She was kind enough to answer many questions through email, and I wanted to share a little of her expertise with you today. (More to come in future posts.)
I asked her how acknowledging what happened to her has been freeing. Here’s her reply:
I also grew up in a home where alcohol was a big part of life. I sought escape in this also by the time I was 6. By age 12 I was being prescribed narcotics for migraines and my addictive brain welcomed them. Any form of chemical that could alter/ treat physical pain was also VERY good at treating/numbing my emotional pain. It is the same receptors in the brain, and they do not differentiate between physical pain and emotional pain. Either way, they perceive PAIN.
While I led what I consider a normal life for many years—getting my degree in rehabilitation medicine, getting married, having a daughter—I always knew something was deeply wrong. The best way I can describe it is that I felt like a dead woman pretending to be alive. I wanted so badly to feel connected, to pursue dreams, to be what I saw others being. But I couldn’t. I remembered nothing of my childhood trauma at this point.
I carried on this way until I simply couldn’t. I drank only a few times a month, but when I did I drank to excess and usually blacked out. I was taking over a dozen medications, including my now triplicate prescribed narcotics usually reserved for terminal cancer patients. When my daughter (whom I loved so much and had wanted deeply) was less than a year old, I attempted suicide.
It was the beginning of my rock bottom, which lasted for two years. After three suicide attempts, I remember thinking I just couldn’t be hopeless anymore. I was not a Christian at the time. I was agnostic. Even then, I had the wisdom and willingness to believe God was bigger than me and my plans, that he had something important in store for me. I recognized the futility of another suicide attempt and was willing to seek out another road to this thing called life!
I connected with a 12-step group, and began working the steps. God knew I was supported and connected with the right people, so that it would be safe for me to remember. And remember I did.
I could have been paralyzed in shame forever if it weren’t for the people I had in my life who loved me and guided me. Strangely, I sought out rehab so I wouldn’t lose my family forever. Now 8 years in recovery I don’t have a relationship with anyone in my family of origin. I will always love each and every one of them, but from a distance.
Last year in the spring I asked my father to meet me for coffee. I don’t know what story he tells about why we are not connected today, but I know that we have not had a relationship since I began my recovery, and that he initiated the distance. While that was painful and confusing at the time, today it all makes sense.
I wanted to tell him I remember everything and that I forgive him, and that I hope he can forgive himself. (Please know this is a place I arrived at with so much work, and help from God. For years I was angry and resentful. That anger only hurt me. ) The other thing I wanted to share with him was how God has been using those awful experiences to help others. At the time, I worked at a homeless shelter where clients all suffer from addiction. Most had their own stories of childhood trauma. I was able to share hope and experience while working there.
Our time together was not what one would see portrayed on TV. He denied ever hurting me. He was disgusted and angry I was “wasting my time” at a homeless shelter. He told me he loves me and misses me, that he wants a relationship with me. The greatest gift of this encounter for me was that I walked away from him knowing I didn’t need him to confirm what happened to make it true.
I told him I wasn’t there to argue and that I didn’t need him to agree with me. Denying what happened it does not make it untrue. This was the first time in my life I was able to communicate to him that I didn’t agree with him. That was a powerful experience that continues to fill me with hope and strength today!
Tanya, thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your story. It’s encouraged me, and I hope it encourages others who are facing the same obstacles in their healing journey. She welcomes questions or comments via email at Tanya71stewart@gmail.com.
Tanya will be back with more about physical and psychological effects of childhood trauma. Also, she has a lot more to say about God’s hand of grace in her healing. Exciting stuff!
Join the conversation! Did you have a similar experience when reliving long-forgotten childhood memories? What helped you face them?