The Effects of Childhood Trauma on Adulthood
by Wanda Lopez
| PTSD: My Story Project #011
I have chosen to participate in the PTSD: My Story Project to raise awareness of the effects that childhood trauma can have on trauma survivors in adulthood. We hear the word PTSD and only think of soldiers, but it is so much more and can impact anyone. And the effects of childhood trauma can manifest even in adulthood. With the help of advocates and professionals, we can get a better understanding of it.
At the age of 8 years old, I was sexually molested by my aunt’s husband. The ripple effect that came from that age until this very moment I write is one I NEVER wish upon anyone! The effects of childhood trauma can last well into adulthood.
The year 2001 is when this traumatic experience happened. Although a one-time occurrence, there were still displays of uncomfortable touching when I was around.
I remember clearly that day. It was my aunt’s birthday and my parents and I went over to celebrate with her. She lived in a tiny basement apartment, so there was not much room to escape or run around. On this occasion, I was the only child there. As with so many celebrations, the adults started to drink some liquor and my aunt got too emotional. Whilst I couldn’t understand why she was crying, I never liked seeing my loved ones cry so I also ended up in tears.
I run towards the kitchen, which was very tiny. I was facing the refrigerator, so I couldn’t tell if anyone was behind me. Next thing I know, my aunt’s husband comes all wobbly, turns me around, firmly grabs my arms, and pushes me against the fridge. I have no idea how no one could hear me. I want to believe my voice was loud enough when I said, “LET ME GO!” and “DON’T DO IT”!
But he didn’t care, but leaned over and began to kiss me. The more I fought it, the more firmly his hands were on my shoulders. All I remember from there on was that I had used all my force to push him off me. Then I ran back into the room where my parents and aunt were. I remember telling my mom I wanted to go home. And after that day till now, I can’t clearly remember how I felt or what happened.
Read also ‘There Is Nothing Wrong With You by Karen Sargent‘
Childhood trauma and its effects
All I know is that within a month, I ended up confessing to my mother what had happened. And I told her how I didn’t want to be touched by him at all! I had also begged my mother not to tell my father. My mom herself was living through domestic violence and infidelity. She was beaten badly and was sent to the hospital. She was the primary caregiver while my father worked or was not home. I begged her to swear not to tell him. There were months from there out where I just couldn’t stand to be next to him or him touching me.
Years passed, and although the first few months after the incident were hard, my brain at that age was able to suppress it in the back of my mind. Being the oldest child and my mom’s diagnosis of osteoarthritis meant that I had to shift gears and not worry about myself but my mom. My dad was barely present. And when he was, we had to live by his moods and standards. I also experienced child abuse from him which I am still healing from. I witnessed not only his violence at home but his infidelities when he would take me outside for errands or outings.
Before the incident, my uncle was the closest ‘father figure’ I had as a child. Since my dad was never present when I needed him, my bond with him resurfaced. He would always help with my homework, color or play with me. Simply be there for me. And I appreciated the attention I got from my uncle, as I never got it from my father.
Yet, because I had suppressed that event, I had no idea it would resurface at unexpected times. As time went on it felt like I was reliving it all over and over again. Every time he would hug me for more than a second, or I greeted him with a simple ‘hi’. I couldn’t understand why I was feeling discomfort and not safe. But because initially, it was a secret no one knew, and no one had the time of day to fight for me at that time… I had to suck it up and fake it for MANY YEARS!!! His firm grabbing on my shoulders, and his willingness to always be close to me were getting harder to withstand.
Read also ‘On My Journey of Trauma Healing by Natasha Levai‘
The effects of childhood trauma on adulthood
Fast forward to 2019, when trauma resurfaced, but this time it happened in a way, I don’t wish upon any parent who has children. This was the manifestation of the effects that childhood trauma can have on adulthood. Going through my own marital problems and heading back to my home state with family came an incident that triggered it all back.
There was an incident with the step-grandfather of my children from their father’s side. I was getting ready to drive a family member to a location when I got a phone call from the father of my children telling me that the youngest was trying to call me. When I reached my youngest son, who was only seven then, he told me, “Mami, the police are here!”
I immediately canceled the ride with my family member and drove straight to their grandmother’s house. As I arrived, I found out that my children’s aunt, who also has a child (their cousin), called the police on him because another family member had caught him with his pants down watching porn. He was also accused of sleeping in the same bed with my children’s cousin, who was ten years old. I was so grateful that NOTHING had happened to any of them. That they were untouched and guarded by two policemen while the other policemen were taking statements.
This man already had a history of sexually molesting his stepdaughter (another aunt of my children) when she was young. Unfortunately, neither she had the support system she needed from her mother. Children’s services ended up calling to interview the boys and make sure they were safe. Although the interview went well, I still couldn’t accept that my children and I were living through this nightmare.
Although I was made aware of the step-grandfather years ago, given I was suppressing my own traumatic event, hearing this only made me want to disassociate myself more, so I never put 2 and 2 together. Plus, like an expert narcissist and abuser, his so-called ‘kindness’ never failed. It truly wasn’t until this very incident that pertained to my children that I realized that my own trauma was about to create havoc in my life.
With the history of sexual molestation within our family and the danger my children were in, I fell into a bottomless pit of anger, despair, and sadness. The effects of childhood trauma can be burrowed down deep. I just couldn’t forgive myself for ever putting my children in the same predicament around the same age range I experienced my own trauma. It was like watching ‘little me’ again.
I checked my children repeatedly for weeks for any marks on their bodies, and became obsessed with their behavior, wanting to ensure they weren’t affected by it all. I was so anxious about letting anyone watch them, not even for an hour. For a year I was very hypervigilant. I, personally, was having nightmares of reliving my childhood trauma repeatedly and had constant emotional breakdowns to the point that for the first time, I had seriously contemplated and planned on taking my own life. I just couldn’t bear the pain of this trauma and how deep it left me lifeless.
Not too long after, I decided that this childhood trauma or any other would not be the reason for not living any longer. Given this for the first time in over 20 years, I had gathered the courage to SPEAK UP!
I spoke with my mother and re-told her step by step about the incident back in 2001. I told her that I was going to speak up whether she had my back or not. Whether anyone believed me or not. What my mom failed to do back then, she, however, did this time. We had hard times, and even our own relationship was at stake due to my firmness in not being silent anymore.
I had a big fear of losing my family if I spoke up! Especially my aunt, who was the ‘cool’ aunt, like a second mother, and I was about to tell her a truth that she was never fully aware of. Unfortunately, her response was not the one I was looking for… Yes, she tried her best to console me. But she messed up by asking me, “Did he do it more than once?” Although, I understood where she was coming from, which was a pure shock because, in the eyes of her and others, her husband was the sweetest and kindest man alive. I couldn’t get over how she would even question me like that.
Woman to woman, it affected me deeply to know that one of the people I truly trusted and loved had doubt in their eyes and voice. Although her husband says it was all a ‘blur’ that he couldn’t remember, he told her, “If Wanda says it’s true, then it is!”. This only triggered me even more because, in his own discreet way, he was confessing it did happen! The relationship with my aunt now is a simple “Hi” and a hug here and there. A year later, in 2020, I confessed to my father. It actually allowed me to get closer to him because of his reaction of not even questioning me.
Read also ‘You Are Never Alone by Jannette Fuller‘
The Creation of HerStoryInASmile
After all that, I needed to find an outlet to let it all out. So, I created HerStoryInASmile in 2021, a movement for women trauma survivors to share the truth behind their smiles. This movement allowed me to begin self-expressing my most deep-rooted traumas while reclaiming my voice again. I have found that when I speak up, I am not only doing so for my ‘inner child,’ but for the many voiceless women or girls out there feeling alone and in despair of the chaos trauma brought them.
I am now 30 years old, speaking up by sharing my stories, being the best conscious parent I can be, and healing one day at a time. “WE ARE HERE TO SPEAK UP AND RECLAIM WHAT WAS TAKEN FROM US.”
Childhood sexual abuse doesn’t go away after you address it; the effects of this type of trauma go with you into adulthood. It not only messes with your mind but the way you feel around others, your sex life, your ability to trust others, the ability to accept love without questioning, the ability to love your body and not feel dirty or used, the ability to not spiral out of control due to uncontrollable storms of emotions in unexpected times, the unknown triggers you find out about the older you get. Speaking up is only the beginning but a crucial part of your healing process.
To heal trauma, we must go through levels of healing that only the individual can distinguish based on their needs and ways of wanting to do so. The effects of childhood trauma manifest themselves in the most unexpected times and ways! It could be years before an individual realizes that what is creating havoc in their life could actually be the trauma they suppressed for whatever reason. It is in those times of resurfacing that we must remember that we are still here and start “RECLAIMING OUR VOICES BACK!”
Wanda is 30 years old Latina and a single mother. She is currently completing her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. Bringing awareness of the trauma complexity is a big part of her life purpose. She aims to raise awareness and empower women to appreciate their smiles even more. “As women, we tend to hide a lot behind our smiles, and the world deserves to know the truth behind that smile. Not for the world to approve but for the world to see women for what they truly are made of.” You can find more about her work on IG @herstoryinasmile.
Read more real-life stories from trauma survivors here: ‘PTSD: My Story Project‘.
Do you have experience with PTSD, or do you take care of / live with someone who has? Would you like to share your story in a guest blog post?
I’m not an expert or a health professional, so the aim of this project isn’t to offer professional advice. Neither is it to pity those who experience PTSD. That’s not what I want. My aim is to raise awareness of PTSD. By sharing your story, you can inspire and empower others. You can highlight the methods that helped you. This way, you can encourage others to reach out for help.
And it may help you as well. Perhaps it’s something you feel like you’re not able to talk about within your closest circle and would like to connect with others in a similar situation. It’s nothing more than bearing an untold story inside you. The fact is that our society still lacks an understanding of mental health. Therefore, I’ve decided to share my story and invite others to join me in this project and write a blog post about their experience. By working together, we can help destigmatise mental health problems and promote well-being.
To be featured
If you would like to join in and share your story on my blog but don’t have the experience of writing a blog post, this isn’t a problem. You can still contact me, and I’d be happy to assist you with the writing. And you can use a pseudonym if you wish to stay anonymous. You can share as much of your story as you want in a way you feel comfortable with.
The only thing I ask is that you mention ‘PTSD: My story project’ in your post and briefly state why you have chosen to take part in it. You will be allowed to approve the post before publishing it, should it be edited.Follow Journeyofsmiley on WordPress.com