My life before trauma was much like any other. I was a happy, energetic kid who had lots of friends and not a care in the world. After school the neighbors and I would spend our afternoons playing in the street, and every weekend we’d go to each others houses and play video games or watch movies for hours on end.
My family was tight knit, and while we didn’t have too much money, my parents always made sure to find fun things for me and my 3 siblings to do. Anyone who knew me at the time would probably describe me as a bright kid who loved to laugh. It seemed, at least for a while, that I had the ideal childhood.
That all changed one summer, when I was 6 years old. My Aunt Karen and her daughters had come up to visit from their home, over 1,000 miles away, and while I loved seeing my cousins, I was always scared of my Aunt Karen. She always had a scowl on her face, and she would fly into rages at the slightest provocation.
Once, when my brother and a group of his friends were out playing basketball in the driveway, she came outside and scared them off because she didn’t like the noise they were making. “Get the hell out of here, you little brats!” she screamed. Having Aunt Karen at the house for those two weeks out of every June was like living with a dark cloud perpetually on the horizon. You never knew what would set her off, or how bad the storm would be.
I found out how bad it could get the hard way. It was a normal, hazy mid-afternoon, and Aunt Karen was watching me, my siblings, and my cousins while my dad worked on a project for work in his room upstairs. He needed peace and quiet to focus, so he asked Aunt Karen if she’d take us outside. We were all playing on the front lawn, when I began to get hungry. Although I was scared of her, I asked my aunt if she would make me a sandwich. I still remember her, rubbing her temple, a cigarette between her fingers, seemingly a million miles away. “No,” she said. “You just ate lunch an hour ago.”
I pleaded some more, and the more I did, the angrier she became. I knew I should have stopped, but the hunger in my belly kept me going, until finally, Aunt Karen snapped. She stormed out of her chair, grabbed me by the wrist, and dragged me into our kitchen. There, she took a package of bologna from the fridge and began shoving slices in my mouth until I couldn’t breathe. I was sobbing, trying to get her to stop through the mounds of slimy meat in my mouth, but Aunt Karen wouldn’t listen. At this point, she was shrieking, grabbing me by the neck and throttling me as she yelled. I had never known fear like that before, or even since.
Luckily, my dad had heard the screaming from upstairs. He came down to see what was happening, just in time to pull Aunt Karen off of me. By that time, though, I was choking on the bologna– I remember Aunt Karen shoving four or five slices into my 6-year-old mouth before being stopped. My vision was going black at the edges. When I looked at my reflection in the glass of our china cabinet, I saw my face turning a shade of reddish-purple.
My dad, through a combination of the Heimlich maneuver and manually removing bits of bologna from my mouth, stopped me from suffocating. Aunt Karen stayed in a hotel that night and left with my cousins a few days later. The police were never called, and we never talked about the incident again, but the wounds from that trauma began to fester.
When I got back to school, I started acting out in ways that weren’t like me. This once happy child became moody and withdrawn, and at times, even aggressive. This pattern continued for years. As a teenager, I fell in with a bad crowd, and was exposed to alcohol for the first time. Me and my friends would skip school, get drunk, and cause trouble.
When I was 15, I was arrested for vandalism– the police let me off with a warning, but the bad behavior didn’t stop. Eventually, I was expelled and sent to a school for emotionally troubled kids. I managed to graduate and get into a decent college, but my addiction issues caught up with me, and I wound up dropping out. I became isolated from any friends I had made, causing me to sink into a deep depression.
After a couple years of aimlessness, anger, and addiction, I reached out to a therapist for help. In our sessions, I revisited this incident with my Aunt Karen for the first time, and realized that much of my struggle stemmed from the unacknowledged trauma I had endured. With the guidance of my therapist, I began the slow road to recovery. I got sober, went back to school, and, through a combination of therapy and medication, began to get a hold of my life.
Today, I’m doing better than I had ever thought I possibly could. I’m on track to finish my degree, I’ve maintained my sobriety, and I’ve found a new group of friends who support me and help me be the best version of myself that I can be. I’m still in therapy, and the pain from that incident sometimes still comes up from the past in the moments I least expect it, but I know I’m on the right track. The road to recovery is slow and painful, and at times, it feels like it would be easier to give up, but I know that there’s a brighter future waiting for me, despite my struggle with PTSD.
Thanks for reading. Please see my story about Social Anxiety.