I should have known. It always happens. I should have known. The day after I posted my last blog my back tried seizing up several times, and I was left with what I will refer to as that pre-seize pain, afraid to move much in case it decided to fully debilitate me for days or longer. Thankfully, after some slow, long, stretches, and breathing exercises, it has calmed now, but it always happens or something similar, when I speak out.
More than a decade ago my articles were very popular on the Internet, and when I’d see how many views they were receiving and I’d get the emails that always came, I would have massive anxiety attacks, trembling all over. It was the fear of being seen, of being known, of getting in trouble by drawing attention to myself, a legacy of growing up under narcissist abuse.
And it seems I’m not alone, most children growing up as I did, both the scapegoats and the golden children tend to end up with medical issues. I know that I have certainly suffered vague, apparently impossible to diagnose sicknesses and physical ailments, and I’ve had a lot of surgery. The constant drama, the gas lighting and confusion, the fear of being caught, even when you’ve done no wrong, and the constant fight or flight stimulation leaves victims of abuse in poor physical states. We tend to suffer autoimmune disorders, constant rigid muscles, depression and mood swings, anxiety, digestive and heart problems, and a myriad of other stress related issues.
There are biological reasons we survivors of childhood abuse suffer throughout our lives, and it has to do with the development of the brain, and the chemical reactions that occur when we are under threat. Our bodies and minds are poised to remove ourselves from the threats, but as children there is nowhere to go, no safe place to escape, we are trapped, and the body holds on to that and does not forget. Over and again we experience the trauma, and over and again it remains trapped in our bodies, and soon we find that we are constantly in pain.
The legacy of child abuse does not end when we become adults as our brains have literally been changed by the abuse, re-wired by the abuse, and in my case, I also have the damage done by many concussions. The changes done by childhood abuse affects the cells in the anterior cingulate cortex, which plays an important role in the regulation of emotions and mood. Studies have shown significant changes in the white matter of the brain, which is made up of myelinated nerve fibers that, much like the electrical wires in our homes, conducts the brain’s electrical system. The myelin is the nerve fibers’ protection, and those who suffered childhood abuse have a stunted myelin system.
Childhood abuse also affects the development of the amygdala, our system to emotional regulation and to reward and satisfaction, as well as the hippocampus. The hippocampus helps with memory, cognition, and learning new things, and studies have shown that in childhood abuse survivors that part of the brain is shrunken and it has to do with the repeated and unexpressed fight or flight reaction that bathes the area in cortisol and retards its growth.
Although the abuse does cause physical changes in the brain, it is my belief that consciously healing also changes the brain, for the better. When I was younger, before I knew anything about Complex PTSD, before I realized that I was raised and abused by a covert narcissist, and when I still worked diligently to fit in with my family, pretending the abuse never happened, I was in poor physical and emotional shape. I suffered many physical ailments, had strange debilitating illnesses that defied diagnosis, and felt sure that I was crazy. I took handfuls of daily medications, and never found much improvement for my issues.
Healing doesn’t happen overnight, and it has been at least a decade of consciously working to be physically healthy, and the changes look vast from where I sit now, but it was a slow and steady, step by step, process of cleaning up my diet and lifestyle. Still, though, I felt ‘off’ until I confronted the abuse and began to acknowledge the damage done and the traumas that I experienced.
I know that there is hope on the other side of these realizations, and I know that although the abuse and concussions caused brain changes and damage, I can heal. When my son experienced brain damage from a fungal infection in his cranial fluids and central nervous system, I saw the improvements achieved through simple puzzles and exercises that reopened neuro-pathways, so I know it’s possible to heal. All it takes is intention, prayer, and hard work, and consciously moving forward.
We can’t heal what we don’t acknowledge, and acknowledging the abuse has been one of my more challenging experiences, but I am determined. Let us not give up hope, and know that there is light at the end of the dark and scary tunnel.