I always thought I had an ok childhood. Though I moved a lot, I was provided for in terms of material things so I guess I never really placed much emphasis on the things that I considered significant events in my life. However being diagnosed with an eating disorder and starting to unearth my past has been enlightening. When you hear from your therapist "Paula, you have had so much trauma in your life", it puts a different spin on your experiences.
I can safely say 12 was the pivotal year. In the span of a very short timeframe: my grandpa died, we moved from one state/city to another state/city and back again to the same state with a different city, my dad called me "a bitch, just like your mother", watched my dad punch holes in the wall from anger, watched as my dad went from mood swings to complete apathy, my mom accidentally OD'd on mis-prescribed medication on vacation, my dad told my mom he wanted a divorce while we were at Disney World, had a near-fatal and intentional car ride, and my mom and dad stopped talking for an entire year in which she sought refuge by sleeping by me and crying herself to sleep in my arms every night.
I don't say this to shame or to blame. I say this so I don't have to carry it with me anymore. I've never discussed the impact it has had on me with my family, and I'm not sure that conversation is in the cards, but I also don't think I've ever really understood the impact it's had on me until now. Around the same time, I stopped having memories. I really don't remember what my teenage years were like or what happened... it's like I went from 12 to 16 with no memories. When I was 16, I started show choir. Staying in one city long enough, I became invested in the people. It saved me and the remaining years of my high school experience.
When I think back on my 12 year old self, I don't really feel anything. It's like I'm completely disassociated from it. No emotion. I should feel something, but I don't.
My therapist thinks that all of the dots connect quite nicely, which is encouraging. She suggested the level of ongoing trauma in a contained period of time made me disassociate from myself to protect whatever sanity I had left. Outwardly, I appeared fine as I was a complete overachiever, but inwardly I was a mess. And if I am objective looking back and in, she's right. This hyper-arousal of "do do do" and "never let a ball drop" is my way of keeping things stable and in control in a very unpredictable and unsafe world. Being antsy is one thing, never being able to relax is another.
I compensated by eating. As a way to find the love I wasn't receiving. As a way to find a constant companion. As a way to control. As a way to soothe myself. As a way to not feel anything I was feeling.
I've appreciated the acknowledgement this process has provided me. Absorbing things as "simply what my experience was" hasn't honored the part of me that is still grieving, scared and alone. The silence has not served me well and I won't allow what happened to me define me any longer.