Three weeks ago, I wound-up in the hospital, suffering with unbearable abdominal pain. I was shocked to learn after a battery of tests I have kidney disease. Those who’ve spent a minute with me will attest I live a super healthy lifestyle. I eat and sleep well, use non-toxic products, and read a plethora of wellness material. So, why then am I often fatigued with debilitating pain? The answer would come via a resourceful trifecta: my therapist, the Jocko Podcast, and Cracked Up: The Darrell Hammond Story. Within a matter of days, all three referenced Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk’s book, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma.
This book… man, all I can say is: Trauma survivors, there is hope for us.
Traumatic experiences leave traces on our minds and emotions… and even on our biology and immune systems.-Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk
Self-Preservation | The Body Keeps the Score
I refer to my mother as Cadillac. It’s a self-preservation mechanism. Ceasing to refer to her as Mom or Mother was the expert advice of an amazing therapist who years ago pointed out, “She didn’t protect you, in fact she deliberately caused you harm, and thereby doesn’t deserve such a distinguished designation.”
Cadillac is mentally ill and struggles with addiction. Vodka, muscle relaxers, pain pills, cocaine, marijuana, chain-smoking cigarettes — whatever calms the dragon. Her malignant narcissism impedes her ability to feel empathy or have any regard for others’ feelings. She exaggerates her personal achievements, thrives on using sex appeal for attention, believes no rules apply to her, manipulates others for personal gain, is aggressively violent, and is void of remorse for any wrongdoing.
As her only child, I discovered her lifeless after an overdose and called paramedics who saved her life. I’ve witnessed her multiple broken facial bones and lacerations after bar fights. She broke her wrist during a drunken blackout. A police officer found her in a parking lot, passed-out with a broken hip. Doctors placed her on a respirator and feeding tube after she overdosed (again), concluding she’d never recover.
She recovered. –And concocted fantastical lies about who was to blame for her near-death experience.
Drama | The Body Keeps the Score
My childhood friends who knew Cadillac thought she was amazing. She was beautiful and always put on a dramatic and glamorous show. But behind closed doors she was a monster. She wove in and out of good and evil with ease.
Narcissists pretend to be kind. They turn it on and off like a switch. I’ve seen it happen over and over. She’d move strangers into our home, introducing them as her new boyfriend. Within weeks, her unrelenting paranoia would incite a vengeful falling-out. Out of retribution, the boyfriend would rob us blind, furniture and all. The heirlooms my grandmother had given me winding up on the shelves of local pawn shops.
Trauma Bond | The Body Keeps the Score
My trauma bond with Cadillac developed amidst her abusive manipulation. I was an eager to please little girl who yearned for love and validation, and felt an intense obligation to protect her. I willfully cleaned-up after every maniacal outburst, locked away my pain, plastered on a smile, and navigated the world with neurotic compulsion.
Cadillac flooded not only her body with toxicity, she riddled mine with it, too. The trauma I endured at the hands of an abusive malignant narcissist with an addictive personality has resulted in bouts with severe persistent asthma, Scarlet Fever, an enlarged spleen, IBS, PCOS, endometriosis, infertility, miscarriage, fibroadenomas, diverticulosis/itis, adrenal exhaustion, kidney stones, and now kidney disease. This is how trauma wreaks havoc on our bodies. This is how our bodies keep the score.
Somatic symptoms for which no clear physical basis can be found are ubiquitous in traumatized children and adults. They can include chronic back and neck pain, fibromyalgia, migraines, digestive problems, spastic colon, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue, and some forms of asthma. Traumatized children have fifty times the rate of asthma as their non-traumatized peers.-Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk
Hypervigilance | The Body Keeps the Score
Throughout childhood, I was obsessed with earning exemplary grades, possessing flawless looks, and being the consummate good girl. I’d craft each day with hypervigilant perfection, to superficially escape her drinking, drugging, violent outbursts, habitual lies, and multiple toxic marriages.
Adults who knew Cadillac would advise me, pitifully, “Take care of your mama.” What an asinine request. I was a child, a traumatized child. The same people were fully aware she had abandoned me at the age of three, moving thousands of miles away, only to spontaneously return before I entered first grade to assume her role as Mother. If I was responsible for taking care of my careless mother, who was responsible for taking care of me?
Were the adults in my orbit aware of the severity of her abusive behavior? Who knows. But, if they were, why the hell didn’t they save me?
After trauma, the world is experienced with a different nervous system. The survivor’s energy becomes focused on suppressing inner chaos. These attempts to maintain control over unbearable physiological reactions can result in Fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and other autoimmune diseases.-Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk
Fight + Flee | The Body Keeps the Score
The day I left for college, Cadillac launched her best and final assault. My packed U-Haul idled in the driveway as I gathered the last few odds and ends. I was steps from crossing the threshold to freedom when Cadillac’s diabolical mind refused to relinquish control. I could physically see her panicking at the thought of losing her sadistic dominance.
As I quickly gathered the last of my things, she instigated an argument, repeatedly hit me, and yanked me by the hair. For the first time in my life, I reflexively returned the favor. With one slap across the face, eighteen years of remorseless physical abuse was over. Little did I know, the emotional ramifications would linger for decades.
Fight/Flight/Freeze signals continue after the danger is over and do not return to normal. Instead, the continued secretion of stress hormones wreaks havoc on the health of the abused.-Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk
You might think I’m ashamed of my retribution. I’m not. The habitually sick little girl who slept on the floor of her locked bathroom for safety felt nothing short of victorious as she placed her house key on the kitchen counter, pulled the front door to the hell house closed, and hoisted herself behind the wheel of a musty getaway U-Haul.
CODEPENDENCY | The Body Keeps the Score
A few months into my freshman year, my grandmother called requesting I do a Cadillac well-check. She claimed Cadillac was alone, incoherent, and suicidal in her apartment. After a two-hour drive, I discovered her despondent and strung-out, her fragile frame weighing all of ninety pounds. She needed a shower, a meal, and a hardcore detox.
I rented a U-Haul, boxed her belongings, and took her home with me. This became our codependent waltz. She created problems, blamed the world for her problems, and insisted I fix the problems. In the truest sense of dysfunction, we both thrived on my codependent sense of obligation.
Perfection | The Body Keeps the Score
After Cadillac’s violent outbursts, I would pick up the literal and figurative pieces, and make things perfect over and over again. I survived childhood trauma by controlling what was within my power. I cleaned, organized, and made myself and my surroundings appear perfect. Subconsciously, my O.C.D. molded me into a pretty damn good aesthete. As an interior stylist, the silver lining of obsessive compulsion was the high demand for my perfectionistic ability to create beautifully functional spaces. I made the exterior world beautiful, while my interior world was in shambles.
BEing traumatized means continuing to organize your life as if the trauma were still going on — unchanged and immutable — as every encounter or event is contaminated by the past.-Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk
Happy Birthday | The Body Keeps the Score
Cadillac hasn’t acknowledged my birthday in years. This year, she called me every day for two weeks obsessing over what to give her new boyfriend for his birthday, so I expected her to recognize mine a few days later. The sun rose and set on what would be my 50th year walking this earth — without a peep from the person who brought me into it.
Something shifted within my being that day. And as I drifted to sleep that night, my sense of obligation to her shriveled up and died.
Healing + Helping
A few days after my recent diagnosis, I commented on an Instagram post providing encouragement to those on their wellness journey. Not long after, I received a direct message from someone named Lauryn. Something about my comment encouraged her to reach out. –It was that sweet communal universe at it again.
Lauryn and I communicated with brutal honesty right off the bat. Our mothers are malignant narcissists. We both endured maternal abuse. We struggle with codependency. –And we’ve both experienced kidney disease.
Lauryn taught me that holistically our kidneys house fear. We were abused by mothers who were supposed to protect us. We grew up in fear — and our bodies kept the score.
Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health. …The critical issue is reciprocity: being truly heard and seen by the people around us, feeling that we are being held in someone else’s mind and heart.
I tossed and turned, twitched, and wriggled over whether or not I should publicly journal about Cadillac. The following dialogue nervously waffled inside my head:
- Thought: “People will think you’re nuts, ya know.”
- Counter Thought: “You’re only as sick as your secrets.”
- Thought: “Cadillac will lose her sh*t.”
- Counter Thought: “If she wanted compliments, she should’ve behaved better.”
- Thought: “Maybe you were dealt these cards so you could help others.”
- Conclusion: “F*ck yeah. –WE WRITE AT DAWN!”
When we’re sick, most of us need our mamas. But, what if you don’t have one? What if the actions of the one you had actually made you sick. I’ve learned with 100% certainty Cadillac is not fixable. She has zero capacity to acknowledge how malignantly psychologically ill she is. –But, you know what is fixable? –Me. I’m a survivor. And I’m a healer. And if this personally raw, vulnerable, and stomach churning journal entry helps one person, it’s worth all the tossing, turning, twitching, and wriggling I felt for days before clicking Publish.
In closing, I’d like to submit a virtual note to Cadillac, the woman I once called Mama. –And if you’ve suffered trauma, I invite you to copy, paste, and forward the hell out of it.
Dear Cadillac- I’m not the shy, MALLEABLE little girl I once was. You destroyed me over and over, but i clawed my way out and built myself and my children into Happy and WHole Human Beings. -Human beings you will never have the honor of knowing.Love- Your Resilient, Kind, Compassionate, Generous, Intelligent, Flourishing, Take-No-Sh*t Daughter
The End. –And, The Beginning.
No matter the source of your trauma, I encourage you to order this life changing book. Let it be your guide to the effects of trauma, and a path to your flourishing recovery.
I hope each of the feel-good nuggets I share gently nudges you to create some positive habits — to manifest a simpler, happier life. And when you need lifestyle + wellness inspiration, I’ll be here — thrilled to share everything I’ve learned with you. Thanks for hanging with me, y’all. I’m crazy-happy you’re here. ♡
Breathe. Visualize. And Find Your Flow.