I, for one, had a loving single mother who had to work hard to make sure that we got everything she thought we needed. With this hard work, it meant that she was not at home to supervise us as much as she, perhaps, should have. In this often unsupervised environment, things sometimes occur that should not be experienced by a child. I won't go into the ugly details because doing so does not change what happened, and I have made peace with these experiences. However, despite these early challenges, I am not saying that I had a terrible childhood, because I would not trade many of my experiences for anything. These experiences made me the person I am today.
Because there were times that no one was watching me, I was able to play hide and seek after dark in my neighborhood, I got to explore the sewer system and the water ways around my neighborhood, and having a bike meant that even at under ten years old, I was able to ride miles away to the local mall, travel to my favorite childhood junk food places like McDonalds, and pretty much feel like the entire world was there for me to explore as long I was willing to bike far enough. Without the bad times I truly believe that I could not appreciate these little things in life that I was able to do. Don't get me wrong, my mom was not neglectful. She hired people to take care of me… but they just didn't do a very good job of managing my wandering nature. And why would an eight-year-old self tell my mother about the lack of supervision when doing so would mean the end of my journeys around the beautiful city of Carson?
And with that I suppose you can see that my view of the world was very juvenile and simplistic. I thought that the fact that I lived across the street (literally across the street) from a liquor store/market was proof that I was living a charmed childhood. I could just walk across the street and have access to any of God's bountiful culinary masterpieces: Hostess fruit pies, Funyons, Crush sodas, ice cream treats of every kind, and any chocolate bar or candy confection your childhood self could possibly imagine. At that time it felt like living across the street from the Wonka Candy Factory. I overlooked the times like the one where I was watercoloring on my front sidewalk, happened to paint a license plate number of a car parked in front of me, and ended up being a six-year-old witness to a convenience store robbery. Or the time I found a paper bag of money under an A-frame sign advertising beer and milk, and ended up hiding from my friend's drug-dealer brother who had foolishly hidden the fruits of his labor in view of a child who felt like she hit the junk food buying lotto that day.
How I survived my childhood in one piece is still a miracle in my mind, but I do think that what made it possible for me to survive some of the emotional challenges was my refusal to let my past define my future self. Please understand that I am not trying to minimize anyone's terrible experiences. All I am saying is that deciding to let go of what was not in my control, like changing the past, and focusing on what I could do to make my life better was more productive and led me to a place of peace and, dare I say, happiness. I also truly believe that my losses and experiences of childhood trauma have contributed to the tapestry of my current self. I believe that it made me a more compassionate person, which also helps me to be a more understanding and patient parent and teacher.
I choose to share this very private side of myself this week because I have several friends that are facing difficult challenges in their lives that are making it more difficult for them to stay positive. I want them to remember that they are strong and that despite how they are feeling right now, things will get better. As I researched for this blog I found some good tips in an article entitled 7 Ways to Heal Your Childhood Trauma:
- Acknowledging that the trauma did occur and that it was not your fault.
- Make sure that you are in control and that your past is not controlling you. As shared in the link above, "When you're a victim, the past is in control of your present...when you have conquered your pain, the present is controlled by you."
- Seek support from those you trust and love you. Do not isolate yourself!
- Focus on your health--a healthier mind and body will make it easier to cope with the current stress you are experiencing.
- Let go of those negative experiences. "Letting go means no longer allowing your bad memories and feelings of a bad childhood to rob yourself of living a good life now."
- Replace your bad habits with healthier ones. For a time I let overeating and bulimia mask what I truly needed to face, and while I still occasionally eat my feelings instead of facing them, I mostly choose to be kind to myself.
- The final suggestion from this article is one that really speaks to me in particular this week. it is important for me to be patient with myself and acknowledge the great progress I have made.
I am hoping that if you are having difficulty making peace with the past that this may inspire you to live your present to the absolute fullest. The past can be crippling if we allow it to be--instead allow your inner strength to shine through and throw your past into the shadows where it belongs. To rephrase a quote from my friend Kathryn, "You have a past, you are NOT your past!"
“My past has not defined me, destroyed me, deterred me, or defeated me; it has only strengthened me.”
Steve Mariboli--Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience