At the age of two, my sibling group and I were removed from our mentally ill mother's care due to physical abuse and neglect. My memories from this time are fuzzy, but I've read the court documents and asked family members difficult questions about the past. Thankfully, I've repeatedly "peeled the onion" of these wounds multiple times across the years with trusted counselors who helped me understand how the trauma I experienced at such a young age can unexpectedly manifest in my life today. The frequency of these emotional storms lessen with each passing year, so now when they occur, the rare nature of the experience leaves me feeling unprepared and caught off guard.
Trust no one.
Don't trust yourself.
I couldn't keep my tears at bay yesterday, so when my husband and I met up with a new couple for drinks, I wasn't feeling like my best self. Because Chris rarely orchestrates social connections with others, showing up matters. So I rallied a little energy and agreed to go, unsure of how the evening might unfold. On the outside, we looked like a normal group of adults enjoying happy hour. But on this inside, I was a tornado of anxiety, uncertainty, and fear.
So I talked too much. I asked too many questions. I took up too much space. I felt pressured to keep the conversation going. My husband, who is incredibly introverted, often struggles to find his way into conversations when there are more than two people involved, so I tried to stay aware of this. However, I did a piss poor job, and after the couple left, he expressed frustration with not feeling included, seen, or heard.
The old tapes cranked into high gear, and the chatter took over. Bouncing between, "you're not enough" and "who do you think you are?", I gave myself the most intense internal tongue lashing, berating myself, questioning my worth, and relentlessly saying things like, "See, no one will ever really love you. It's not safe to trust people. If you'd just behave better and quit rocking the boat, you can protect yourself. Keep your mouth shut. Fade into the background. Stay small. Disappear."
My twisted sense of over responsibility reared it's ugly head, and the next thing you know, I'm sitting on the floor of a poorly lit restaurant bathroom bawling my eyes out, barely able to catch my breath. "Get it together, Tenille. You're in public." Inevitably, when I'm in the midst of these melt downs, I will look in the mirror and see my mother. I'm her spitting image, and although she's been dead now for over 10 years, I often wonder what the chatter in her head felt like decades ago. Her mental illness and subsequent addiction wreaked havoc on the lives of so many people—her parents, her 12 siblings, the 7 children she didn't raise. Do I believe she was doing the best she could? Sure. But the collateral damage of her choices continue to ripple throughout our lives today.
In her book, The Deepest Well: Healing the Long Term Effects of Childhood Adversity, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris writes, “Children are compelled to give meaning to what is happening to them. When there is no clear explanation, they make one up; the intersection of trauma and the developmentally appropriate egocentrism of childhood often leads a little kid to think, I made it happen." Learning how to talk back to the gremlins that tell me I am the cause of other people's reactions never gets easier. And sometimes, when my amygdala is lit up like a Christmas tree, and I have nothing in my reserves, I'm two years old again, crying uncontrollably, afraid I'll be abandoned or hurt.
As I compose this blog on a Saturday morning, I have a puffy eyes and a pounding headache from all the tears. I'll be recovering from these wounds—and new ones I create—for the rest of my life. Perhaps last night's episode and today's reflections are part of the healing journey. I'm thankful to be a part of this writing community that holds space for the unraveling and stitching back together.