Foster Care Awareness Month | Layers | May 2022

By SaraJoy

I compare trauma to that of an onion. It stinks and it is full of many layers, you have to work your way through each layer to uncover and understand why you’re reacting physically or emotionally to stimuli. The gift that keeps on giving… With every milestone, trauma shows up and surprises me. I often ask myself what my life would be like without trauma. I honestly had no idea what the word trauma was, let alone all of the hardships that come with being adopted. I just turned 23 a couple of weeks ago, and it still blows my mind that I’m still trying to survive and get through everyday life even though I’ve been removed from my situation for sixteen years now. For the longest time, I blamed myself for the abuse and thought “I should have been better” or I made excuses to “justify” my family’s behavior because I just couldn’t comprehend it. I even tried to convince myself that my mother wasn’t in the wrong. I tried rationalizing the reason she allowed these things to happen was because she was being abused herself and she was powerless. I thought MAYBE she was allowing the abuse because it gave her a sense of power when she had none. If that was the case, then it’s totally justifiable that she allowed the abuse to occur. The fact of the matter is there is no excuse for what happened to me. Nothing will justify the abuse and I have to live with this ever-shifting and changing trauma. Like a tornado, it always finds a way to wreck things. When it does I repeat, “ it is not my fault…. What happened is not my fault,” but somehow I always end up blaming myself. The first few years of my life are a blur. I cannot remember much, and what I do remember is the hurt and pain that I experienced daily. I was constantly worrying about the “bigger” things in life like when is the next meal? Will tonight be better or worse than last night? How long do I have to suffer? At three, I knew that my family was different but I thought “maybe it’s normal?” My mother would come home drunk or high on drugs pretty much every day. I would tremble with fear every time my mother would walk into the room or I’d get this sinking feeling in my stomach when mom brought a new “friend” home. There were things I had to experience starting at four that I didn’t understand, but somehow deep down inside it didn’t seem right, no matter how many times my family tried to reassure me. I was a three-year-old that was in charge of being the “adult” in the family. One of the duties was ensuring that we had food. None of us were anywhere close to being able to work and make money, so we would go look for loose change on the ground. We would try and collect enough money to buy a cup of noodles or mac and cheese. More often than not, we would go to bed hungry because we simply did not have the money to buy the food. If we were lucky, we could sneak an extra breakfast or lunch with us from school to save for that night. How does a house function with such anger? Well, it does not function effectively, and no one is truly ever happy. I knew that other kids got in trouble when they did something wrong, but did other kids get in trouble when they were good? Did they get yelled at when they were at the store and said they needed to go to the bathroom, then denied the privilege of using the bathroom? Then get yelled at when they had an accident? When they got in trouble, were they left marks that had to be covered up? Did their parents tell them I love you, or did their parents tell them negative things? I do not ever remember my mother telling me I love you or anything positive for that matter. She made sure to always tell me that I was a disappointment, a mistake, a nobody, never able to be anything, ugly, disgraceful, and anything else she could think of. She left me so discouraged and broke me at such a young age. But that only made me try harder to earn her affection; the only thing that I wanted in life was to make her say “I’m proud of you”. I was only four, but I yearned for affirmation and it made me try my hardest to never make her upset. But nothing ever worked; I would never be good enough. I’m going to talk about that onion again. You know how sometimes you cut an onion and you start crying and it’s not small tears but it burns deep and the tears just continue to flow? Yet, sometimes you can cut an onion and are not phased at all and you cut that thing up and go about your day. I would say that’s similar to trauma. I’ve learned that sometimes trauma will come into my life and hit me like a ton of bricks. My body goes into flight or fight mode and I have to figure out why? Then, on the other hand, I may not react at all and I think to myself “wow…I’ve come a long way with this”. Flash forward to my adult self. I have learned that although trauma will never go away there are things I can use to help me cope with the trauma. One way to process the ever arising trauma is through counseling. For a while, I thought counseling was silly but when I finally gave it a shot I learned about various coping mechanisms and grounding techniques to deal with the anxiety and depression that are caused by my trauma. Many people are scared to get help but it’s so important to process these triggers with a trained professional. It’s okay to interview your counselor ahead of time to ensure that they are the right fit for you. I want to leave you with this, it’s okay to take trauma one step at a time. Sometimes it will feel like one step forward and two steps back. THAT IS 110% OKAY!! I have learned to be okay with my trauma and sit with the uneasy feeling. I have found that when I resist or fight the unpleasant feelings it makes them worse. Embrace when you’re reminded of your trauma, and don’t let it discourage you when you feel like you’re regressing from the progress you’ve made. Similar to an onion, you wouldn’t just stop cutting it simply because you’re crying right? You’d want to make sure that you finish cutting that onion to add to your recipe. Trauma will always be with you and you want to keep pushing forward even when you have a setback.