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. But, despite healthy living, I’ve continued to feel fatigued and often experience debilitating pain. –Why? It turns out 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 about trauma and how The Body Keeps the Score.
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 | Trauma and How The Body Keeps the Score
I refer to my mother as Cadillac as a self-preservation mechanism. This was expert advice from an therapist who told me, “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. 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 | Trauma and How The Body Keeps the Score
My childhood friends who knew Cadillac thought she was amazing. She was beautiful and dramatic. What they didn’t know was she was a monster behind closed doors. 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 | Trauma and How 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.
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 | Trauma and How 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. They knew she abandoned me at the age of four, 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. 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 | Trauma and How The Body Keeps the Score
The day I left for college, Cadillac launched her best and final assault. Steps from crossing the threshold, I could see her diabolical mind refusing to relinquish control. I could physically see her panicking at the thought of losing sadistic dominance.
She instigated an argument and repeatedly hit me, yanking 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. 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 | Trauma and How 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 | Trauma and How 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 created a beautiful exterior world, but my interior world was in shambles.
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. I expected her to recognize my birthday 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.
I experienced a shift 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.
I tossed and turned, twitched, and wriggled over whether or not I should publicly journal about Cadillac. This was my internal dialogue:
- 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 to help others.”
- Conclusion: “F*ck yeah. –WE WRITE AT DAWN!”
We need our moms when we’re sick. 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. You know what is fixable? –Me. I’m a survivor. And I’m a healer. If this raw and stomach churning journal entry helps one person, it’s worth all the twitching, and wriggling I felt before clicking Publish.
In closing, I’d like to submit a note to the woman I once called Mama.
Cadillac, I’m not the shy, MALLEABLE little girl I once was. You destroyed me over and over. i’ve 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. –xo