A Lifelong Tragedy: Child Abuse

Dear Journal,

I want to discuss a sensitive topic with you that is dear to my heart since you are my trustworthy confidant. To be exact, I would like to discuss my experiences with child abuse and how it has continued to negatively affect me throughout my adult life. Since I was 11 years old, I have endured physical, mental, and psychological abuse. The abuse could have started before age 11, but I think I blocked it out. My therapist is the only person I have openly discussed, in detail, my past childhood experiences with abuse. Recently, I have been struggling with some invading thoughts going on in my mind that I need to vent to you about. You are the nonjudgmental ears I am seeking. Hopefully, you have some time on your hands because I’m about to emotionally dump everything inside of me onto you.

As a child growing up in an abusive environment, I grew up in a permanent fight-or-flight state of mind. Normalcy was not found in the quiet and safe moments throughout my day. It was found within then moments that led me to fight to defend myself or flight to protect myself. I was constantly on the edge of my seat anticipating the next traumatic situation. It didn’t matter if it was a physical, emotional, or psychological violation. I constantly felt unsafe. Even rest was fragile. I was afraid all of the time. I was afraid of what had happened and what could happen next. This is why I struggle with anxiety to extreme degrees and why I create problems when things are normal in my life. When life is normal I feel that something is wrong with my life because it feels boring and unsettling. Normalcy is uncomfortable because I am a creature of habit and comfortability; I am comfortable and familiar with extremes. I am used to living in extremes. I have even destroyed healthy, thriving relationships because it was normal and quiet. I confused normality as a red flag because I grew up with the belief that normal, healthy relationships are roller coasters full of ups and downs with no safety or security. I have spent years in therapy understanding this about myself in order to heal. Only now am I learning through meditation practices to embrace and appreciate the quiet moments in life. I now understand that living in fight or flight is a sign of trauma from an abusive relationship.

Speaking of toxic relationships, let me tell you about how child abuse set me up to indefinitely attract and create toxic romantic and casual relationships. To be honest, until I recently embarked on a journey to heal and cultivate self-love within me, I had no healthy idea what love was or looked like. My earliest experiences with love were unhealthy and toxic due to a narcissistic mother and drug-addicted father. Without going into detail about them (that would be a month-long conversation), I want to emphasize when your first experiences with love are abusive, you have no healthy framework to form and define love as an adult.  As a child, my boundaries and I were never respected. I grew up apologizing for everything while being silenced when I tried to speak up and being beaten for standing up for myself or against cruelty. I grew up only knowing conditional love: I was loved under a set of conditions I had to constantly fulfill to earn that love. As an adult, I attracted people in friendships and romantic situations that were also addicts or narcissistic. My boundaries were never respected in my adult relationships. My needs were never met as I attracted people who, once again, used me to meet their needs full time. My needs were completely ignored as if they did not exist nor matter.

It was only until I began therapy years ago did I begin to understand the root cause as to why I was surrounded by so many toxic people. I finally understood that I was part of the problem. I was attracting the only kind of people I ever knew to be normal or healthy because I was drawn to what was familiar. I confused what was comfortable with what was healthy, normal, and ‘right’. I was attracting the same love I experienced as a child but with different people. If I had grown up in a healthy household with genuine, unconditional love, I would have known who to attract and how to form healthy relationships with them. I believe if I had grown up in a healthy household full of love, I would be surrounded by love today instead of being lonely. I plan to remain alone until I trust myself enough to form and make new, healthy relationships in the future.

Another aspect of child abuse is the broken self-esteem most children grow up to develop as adults. I don’t even think I had any self-esteem or self-love. In fact, I don’t think I genuinely had any positive feelings towards myself. Maybe it was because I was never allowed to think of anyone else but my abusers’ needs. Maybe it was because my abusers indirectly conditioned me to believe that I wasn’t valuable, lovable, or enough. I never thought I alone was ever enough for anyone. I believed I had to constantly prove my worth by saying yes to everything even if I wanted to scream, “NO!”. I thought I was supposed to help others, even if it was at my expense. I genuinely believed that my opinion did not matter and I was supposed to remain agreeable. I thought if I did anything else, I would be deemed worthless and unloveable. Having a lack of self-respect and self-esteem impacted my ability to pursue my goals, grow into the woman I want to be instead of what I think I should be, and form/maintain healthy relationships.

As a 32-year-old adult, I am just now learning and working on rebuilding my confidence and self-respect. I practice this within my relationships by setting boundaries and protecting them at all costs. I also practice self-care routines multiple times a week to remind myself I am worth investing in, loving, and showing up for. Before I begin a new relationship with anyone, I first want to become full of love and respect within myself. My relationship with myself is my priority. I am now learning things I should have learned as a child but was deprived of due to abuse. Luckily, everything I need for a healthy future with myself and others begins with me.

As a person who struggles with PTSD and ADHD, I can testify firsthand that child abuse most definitely leads to future mental and psychological disorders. As a consequence of suffering from these disorders, I believe it also opened up a door for addiction. I view child abuse as a gateway to various addictions. In fact, I am now nearly 9 years sober. In 2014 I struggled with Oxycodone, Heroin, and Adderall addiction. I began taking the pain medication to numb the pain in my physical body, heart, and mind that built up after years of abuse. The pain killers made living with years of trauma much easier, much more bearable. Emotional stress and duress can manifest in severe physical pain in the body. Unfortunately, I did not understand then that numbing the bad feelings and pain would numb the good feelings too. I turned to Adderall because I was a pre-med student in the middle of an abusive home life. I was trying to concentrate and meet the demands of my medical program. I was able to stay awake and focus. However, the sideeffects of the drug lead to extreme mania, paranoia, and delusional thoughts. This is scary for someone struggling with PTSD.

Child abuse most definitely has a negative snowball effect into their teenage and adult years. When the child abuse stopped, the consequences kept showing up throughout my life and they continue to show up. This is why I remain working through these issues with my therapist, support group, and various self-help programs. The substance addictions are no longer a problem for me. However I will always live with PTSD and ADHD. It honestly feels like a permanent stain on my mind.

I could go on forever about this topic. I could spend years explicitly explaining to others the severe, lifelong consequences of child abuse. However, I think that for today, I have gotten the point across loud and clear. I will spend the rest of my life recovering from child abuse. It will never leave me. My only hope is that I can help others heal and bring awareness to the public about the importance of protecting children at all costs. Children are the future, we must protect them to ensure we leave this world a better place.

Yours truly,
Amanda Marianna