“the truth about our childhood is stored up in our body, and although we can repress it, we can never alter it. our intellect can be deceived, our feelings manipulated, and conceptions confused, and our body tricked with medication. but someday our body will present its bill, for it is as incorruptible as a child, who, still whole in spirit, will accept no compromises or excuses, and it will not stop tormenting us until we stop evading the truth.”– tara brach, the power of radical acceptance
when i was 13 years old, my father died by suicide. i woke up to the sound of his alarm going off, but he wasn’t in his bed. while the rest of my family was still asleep, i looked around the house for him and, at 6:45am, i opened the door to our basement laundry room and found my dad, moments after his death. at first i thought it was a joke, some sort of a prank. i walked right up to him saying, “dad, stop it. stop it. dad?” and slapped him in the face. as soon as i touched him, his suicide became real life.
that is where the initial memory of that morning stops. that is when my brain flooded with cortisol and i mentally blacked out, because that moment was too dangerous, too traumatic, too unbelievable, too terrifying to be remembered any further. words, movements, thoughts, actions, silence, screaming cannot describe that moment. i won’t even try.
i believe that the trauma of that moment struck right at the heart of me. i believe that it forever impacted my body, my mind and my spirit. i feel as if the trauma lodged itself in my brain, traveled down into my heart and wormed its way into my cells. i haven’t done a lot of research on this but i don’t have to. i can feel it in my body. i can see how, 19 years later, the searing and indescribable pain of that moment still affects my life in so many ways.
i openly grieved for my father briefly, for several months, after he died. i was stricken with paralyzing ptsd. i cried. i talked. and then i stopped. i put it away. i pushed it to the back of my mind. i pushed it to the bottom of my stomach. i pushed it into my toes, into the ends of my fingers. i tried to extract it from my heart. for a variety of reasons i felt i needed to pull it together and get on with my early teenage life. i didn’t want to talk about it, i didn’t let myself cry about it, i didn’t even want his name to come up in conversation. i can see now that it was too traumatizing to face the reality that my father killed himself. i wasn’t ready to do it then. i was coping by avoiding. i was doing the best i could.
but, as tara brach says, “the truth about our childhood is stored up in our body. and although we can repress it, we can never alter it.” for all of these years, that truth has been simmering inside of me. it has left its mark on so many relationships and experiences throughout my life.
fear of abandonment. fear of disapproval. fear of loneliness. fear of change. caring so much about what other people think. putting myself down and criticizing myself. working too much. burning out. tolerating too much stress. trying to be perfect.
an abandoned child who thinks she did something wrong.
it’s all inside of my body. those aren’t just thoughts – they are a part of me. they are inside of my tight shoulders, my clenched jaw, my sore back. they are in my headaches, in my panic, in my shallow breathing. they are the pain that i feel in my stomach. they are in my heartburn. they are bound up in my mental illness, in my depression and in my anxiety. and some of the trauma is locked away so deep that i don’t even know where it is.
the truth about my childhood has been rising and rising and pushing back at my pushing it away. it refuses to be help down any longer. it refuses to remain silent any longer. the truth about my childhood is now presenting its bill.