I used to wonder as a child why some people had it so much harder than others. Why was my family always burning in chaos and dysfunction while others were sitting down to Sunday dinners and celebrating milestones? “Were we being punished for something?” As a kid I was told time and again, “It’s just the way it is, some people get dealt a shitty hand.” I can clearly see how this contributed to my deeply disempowered mindset. Fast forward to my mid 30’s and I was on the brink of waving my imaginary white flag and accepting that my life would always be a struggle. At that time It seemed far less heartbreaking to give in to the struggle and let go of hope than to experience any further disappointment.
I look back and see that moment as a life altering fork in the road. I could have chosen the path of acceptance for what was and continued down the road of self-destructive numbing out. But instead I chose to keep fighting for the life I somehow knew was out there. I chose to go forward on a path of curiosity. That curiosity fueled my drive to find answers. The answers renewed my hope. And the hope allowed me to finally begin healing from the trauma and dysfunction that was so deeply ingrained in my mind, body, and soul.
“Hopefulness can be a powerful tool for anyone trying to escape the clutches of childhood trauma, family dysfunction, and narcissistic abuse.”
Today I can look back and see the beauty in my story. I can see why my family has carried so much pain. I can see how they have continued to pass down their trauma from one generation to the next. I can now see how, when unhealed, trauma leaves little room for hope to thrive. I realize now that my childhood experiences hold deep value. They have given me purpose and direction. They have helped me to become the woman I am today. This realization is a gift in itself, one I will never take for granted. Not everyone who has been through adverse childhood experiences makes it to the other side. I am grateful every day that my curiosity fueled my persistence to find a way out. Childhood trauma is a tricky thing. You can go your whole life steeped in it and potentially never realize it. When you’re born into a family with deep unhealed trauma, chaos is nothing short of normal. As a child, my mom’s addictions and trauma were all encompassing, the chaos extended to every aspect of our lives. I look back and realize the most important years of my life, my developmental years, were spent surrounded by traumatized adults. Adults who where emotionally stunted, trapped in their old stories, beliefs, and programming. Adults who saw the world as cold, harsh and cruel. Adults who had lost hope long before I got there. I was raised by adult children who were deeply hurt and stuck in their past, while simultaneously unaware.
As a kid I felt like an outsider in my family. They felt foreign to me. I remember looking around at the complete and utter chaos, desperately seeking answers, “How did I end up here?” “Was there a mistake?” “Had I been switched at birth?” “Was I being punished for something?” I swore I wouldn’t become like them. But, as a child living in trauma and dysfunction I couldn’t dwell there for too long. Instead, I had to quickly pick up the tools I needed to survive. I learned to monitor my surroundings. I learned to play small and stay out of the way. I learned to be a good kid. I learned there was no time for play. I learned that taking care of my mom was necessary for my survival.I had to do this for the majority of the my first 18 years. All the while, insisting I wouldn’t become like them. But slowly over time, family trauma and dysfunction begins to seep into you, just as it did those before you. I began to see the world as harsh and unforgiving. I watched my mom’s addictions gain momentum. I was consistently abandoned and let down by every adult around me. All I knew was disappointment and struggle. I lost hope. My body adjusted to the constant state of fight or flight. Survival mode was my baseline. I slowly began to internalize my experiences and turned them into stories about who I was. I became burdened with shame, as I can only assume my parents had done as young adults before me.
“After everything I saw. After everything I knew. After all the promises I made to myself. Why did I still go on to follow in their footsteps for the next 20 years of my life?”
As a child growing up in a family riddled with trauma and dysfunction, you can’t wait to get out. It’s like counting down the days of a prison sentence. You learn to dissociate from your reality and begin to fantasize about what adult life will be like once you are finally free. It’s all you can think about. But what we don’t realize is how unprepared for adulthood we are. We don’t realize that turning 18 doesn’t wipe our memories clean. We don’t realize the depth of enmeshment we will have to work through to truly free ourselves. This is when darkness sets in for many of us. This is when we realize that it all continues to live on within us. We now face the inner demons that are the result of years of abuse, neglect, and abandonment. This is when so many of us unintentionally fall into the foot steps of the adults who hurt us.
We take this path not because we want to but because this is what was mirrored to us as children and because we are in so much pain. We learned early on that pain is bad. Pain results in a need to numb out. As children we watched our caretakers use alcohol, drugs, sex, tv, gossip, drama, work, and abuse among many other things to numb their pain. We were never shown a healthy way of working through pain, hurt, and disappointment. We learned how to abandon ourselves by watching our caretakers do the same.
I wasn’t always able to do this. I hated myself for a long time. I hated that I followed in their foot steps. I hated that I was a part of them. I hated that I had their blood running through my body. I was ashamed of where I came from and ashamed of who I had become. I felt like I couldn’t escape. When I looked in the mirror I saw my mom. When I introduced myself I would cringe at my own name. Everything about me was a trigger, a wound, an uneasiness that I felt chained to. They were me and I was them. I was following the path set in front of me. I abused alcohol, I chased after emotionally unavailable partners, I was promiscuous, I found myself in one co-dependent relationship after another, I avoided responsibility, I was addicted to chaos, I racked up credit card debt from retail therapy, I gossiped and I accepted jobs that undervalued me. I learned how to play my victim role and I played it well.
“I was doing these things because I wasn’t happy. I can look back and see how I was desperately seeking the love, connection, and security that I didn’t receive as a child.
On one hand I was desperately seeking love and acceptance and on the other I was in a constant battle with mycritical inner parent who insesently reminded me of where I came from and how unworthy I was of happiness and true connection. It’s no surprise looking back at that version of me, why I was ready to wave my white flag. It can be utterly exhausting to live in the mind and body of a childhood trauma survivor. I look back and see that morning as a personal rock bottom. I was tired of numbing out, I was tired of looking for love in all the wrong places, I was tired of feeling less then, and I was tired of doing the same thing over and over again while hoping for a different outcome. I was exhausted!
I didn’t realize it at the time but I was talking to my higher power. I’ve come to realize in recovery that she has been there the whole time. Silently watching over and guiding me. I was asking for help. I was asking for guidance. I was surrendering. All powerful steps of the Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families 12-Step program (ACA). A program I wouldn’t stumble across for another 4 or so years. I look back now and see how quickly my surrendering resulted in the support I was so desperately seeking. I was ready for change. I was ready to find me. The real me. The me underneath the thick layers of trauma and dysfunction. I was ready.
The path of childhood trauma recovery is not easy. I have had to allow my heart to be cracked wide open. I have had to face my demons head on. I have and continue to work toward forgiveness for those who hurt me but more importantly self-forgiveness. I have made amends to those I hurt. I have tirelessly worked to release my old ways of thinking, my old patterns, and my old habits. I have had to unlearn everything I thought I knew.
I have changed my relationship with alcohol, sex, love, and money. I had to learn how to calm my critical inner parent while re-parenting my inner child and myself. I’ve had to learn how to love myself…unconditionally. I’ve had to exchange self-judgement for self-compassion. I am still learning and growing. I am still working on letting my walls down, trusting, being vulnerable. I am still working on building an unbreakable foundation, one that comes from my own self-confidence and ability to give myself all the things I need so that I’m no longer expecting others to fill my needs.
“This work has not been easy. At times it’s frustrating, triggering, and even infuriating. Sometimes it’s scary and overwhelming. And often it can feel sad and isolating. But I can look back now and see why all of that was necessary for my healing.
I am not “healed,” as I will continue healing for the rest of my life. But it’s not as difficult as it was during the first couple of years. It get’s easier. We become stronger. We implement boundaries. We identify our non-negotiables. We toss our old tools and begin filling our tool box with new, empowering and supportive habits, hobbies, community and support. We continue reaching milestones and identifying how much we’ve changed. We celebrate our wins, big and small. We become empowered. We begin to stand on our own two feet. We take back our lives.
As I am approaching the two year mark of going no contact with my family, a decision that was gut-wrenchingly difficult to make, I am celebrating another milestone in my recovery. I am shedding a part of me that no longer aligns with the woman I am becoming. I am lovingly letting go of my birth name Tracy Jenkins, a name that carries deep heartache, shame and un-worthiness for me. I am stepping into a name that more aligns with the warrior I am, hello Morgan Wilde! My story will continue to evolve, I will continue to heal and grow. I hope that in sharing my story you may find inspiration. Inspiration to begin your own healing journey or inspiration to keep going.
I have tremendous gratitude for everyone who has shown up on my path since choosing to face my trauma and begin healing. I would never be where I am today without the love and support of my chosen family, friends, coaches, mentors, and fellow trauma survivors. I believe deeply that we heal within community and support is necessary. If you are just starting your journey or simply considering it and would like the support of someone who has been where you are please feel free to reach out. I would love to support you.
Lots of love ~ Morgan