Positioning oneself in relationship to a traumatic, even horrific, childhood is awkward. It’s awkward for the person who lived it. It’s awkward for everyone else too.
If you say, in some form, it turned me into the wonderful person I am today, does it mean it was okay to harm you?
If you say, in some form, it made a shambles out of me, are you buying into the worthlessness and hopelessness you were raised with?
It’s not a win-win, is it? It’s more of a lose-lose. It’s a damned no matter what you do kind of thing. But we go on trying to pick one extreme or the other.
People who live through trauma are either victims or survivors, either people to be pitied or people to be admired, either a mess or a hero. Everyone else gets to be average, but trauma survivors must try to find an extreme they can shove themselves into. It’s not comfortable.
Like the rest of humanity, we are just bumbling along trying to get through the day the best we can. The problems we have are different. They are often more intense and more difficult. But many people have very difficult life stresses to manage. Childhood trauma is up there on the scale, but I don’t know if it’s the worst one.
I’m not trying to minimize the horror or the aftermath. I’m just saying it’s a past. Everyone gets one.
When someone else was eight years old and struggling to sit still in class, he did the best he could with his fidgetiness. When I was eight years old and forced to rape someone I loved, I did the best I could too. Oh, it’s fucked up. Oh, it is. I agree with that. Eight year-olds should have to try to learn how to sit still in class. They should not be forced to assault someone else. That is certainly true.
It did, in its way, contribute to who I am, just as everyone else’s childhood does for them. Some of that was good. Some of that was bad. Just as your childhood did for you. And like me, you are probably working on the bad and trying to augment the good.
It is not okay what was done to me, but it did happen. It is what happened to me. It is a part of me, just as growing up in Texas or having a bad-ass mom who pushed out of the ghetto is a part of you. You can make judgments about it, but judgments won’t make it go away. They won’t make it happen either. It did happen. It’s over and done with now.
When I have to pick an extreme, when I have to say I was brave (I was scared out of my mind) or that it wrecked me (I’m not dead yet. Maybe it didn’t.), I lose the right to tell my story. I am forced to begin to lie about it. The extremes are not the truth. Like everyone else’s childhood, it was muddy and complex and many things were not clearly one thing or the other but many things at once. The mix of good and bad was more intense—the good was sometimes better and the bad was infinitely worse—but it is much like everyone’s: a mix.
When I am reduced to a caricature of a person, when my experiences are reduced to backgrounds for a myth to play out against, I am again dehumanized. It isn’t intentional. Mostly, it is well-meaning. But I am again made into someone who doesn’t have the rights that other people have. I lose the right to be both flawed and wonderful, to have both good and bad qualities, and good and bad memories as well as to have many memories that are a mix of both.
I lose what everyone else on the planet has a right to: the right to a story, the right to a true story, and with that story I lose a lot of my right to exist. Again.