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This four-part article was written exclusively for PsyWeb.com by Catherine Vincent. She explains how her chaotic childhood gave way to PTSD as well as what she has done to overcome the disorder.
I am a 31-year-old woman who has been struggling with Complex PTSD (C-PTSD) for at least 15 years. It surprises me that none of the therapists or counselors I saw over the years ever suggested that I might have C-PTSD or even PTSD.
It wasn’t until a friend of mine, who also struggled with PTSD, approached me about the subject that I sought out more information and help. My friend mentioned we had struggled with similar traumas in our childhoods and other PTSD symptoms. I was encouraged by this friend to seek help from someone who understood PTSD.
I grew up with a single mother whose immediate and extended family members were alcoholics. My mom had been using drugs since high school. We both lived with her mother who suffered not only from alcoholism but also anorexia.
It’s surprising to me that I have no clear memories of my childhood. It’s as if I've blocked out my childhood. The one clear memory I have of that time is my mother and her bouts of anger. Every day she would yell at me and lash out about something or someone. When I was a child, adults constantly unloaded their stress on me.
I find it strange that if I ever did anything I enjoyed or even excelled at, I was repeatedly criticized, dismissed and put down. In the interest of healing and to avoid this abuse, I cut ties with my mother long ago. The abuse I received was not always emotional; it was physical as well. As a toddler and up until I was about 10, my mother frequently beat me with her fists. Years later, she would joke about it, trying to minimize the severity of the violence and trauma I underwent.
My mother often fell in love with “boyfriends” who were verbally abusive to us both. This was terribly frightening for me as a child. She would stay with these men because they were wealthy. The environment in our home always felt dangerous, unstable and teetering on the brink of chaos. Internally I was always in turmoil.
I felt angry, fearful and hurt. Before I sought out help, my memories and thoughts about the past would overwhelm me. I simply didn’t know what to do with my thoughts or how to handle them. Growing up I had incredibly low self-esteem. I felt totally out of place around other kids, and I didn’t feel I was worth being friends with.
In Part II of this article series, Catherine discusses how her mother's marriage put them both in a position of danger and how the instability in her life contributed to her PTSD.
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