The skipping stone that leaves subtle, but devastating ripples in each life it touches. This is my story.
Acknowledging that past abuse and trauma can precipitate current behaviors means to deal with its consequences, its pain. That’s a given for social workers; we know that already. We always tread lightly when it comes to bringing up difficult topics, because you’re not quite sure what flashbacks or uncomfortable conversations will surface. When generational abuse is present in a family, no one person wants to shoulder the responsibility of the consequences.
So then, the person who experienced the trauma has to shoulder the consequences, which means to keep the secret. Keeping the secret implies that the bearer is responsible for that secret. Not surprisingly, that burden, that guilt, somehow needs soothing and reconciliation.
The secret is such a burden that it begins to manifest in everyday life. The effects of the abuse is displayed in the behavior that everyone sees, yet no one can explain. For example, it’s missed days at work. It’s an overly needy friend. It’s a child with a stomachache. It’s a person who lashes out at others. It’s drug use that helped with moderate back pain, then spirals out of control.
If you don’t know about adverse childhood experiences yet, stop reading this and go learn about it.
I am an ACEs witness. I am an adult child of a mother who never recovered from the trauma in her life. My mother was also an adult child of a mother who never recovered from the trauma she went through….you see the pattern, right?
I lived through my mother’s unresolved trauma showing itself in her erratic behavior. Growing up, I, in shame, made excuses for the behavior so that no one would think of me differently. In silence, I held her hand in the hospital after recovering from the overdoses. I picked her up off the floor more times than I could count. I realized very early on that I had two versions of my mother.
Sober, she loved me so hard. Not sober, she hid from me and manipulated me.
The complexity that I now deal with after my mother’s passing is the fact that the trauma she experienced growing up was talked about early on, yet subsequently ignored. “It was a different time back then” was something I hear often in my experience in this field, but hearing that said about my own family makes me feel her experiences were minimized and debased. It made me feel very protective of her, yet confused; I don’t know what life was like back then. But, life back then is not the life we live today, which is why I’m writing this.
I will state that my mother’s battle with addiction had made her incredibly strong. I didn’t see the strong side often, but I know it was within her because the trauma stopped with her. She swallowed all of her experiences and ensured my brother and I wouldn’t experience what she had. When I saw the dark side, it turned me away from the beginning of the path she went down.
There were periods of time throughout my life where I tried to push her away. I ignored her calls because I didn’t want to hear the addiction slurring her words. I was angry at her. It was those times where I believed she was the addiction, and that she should snap out of it. It was through my professional experiences in which, when working with families who shared the same experiences, I found empathy. I then knew that she and the addiction were two different beings; just like cancer that grows inside a healthy person.
I still harbor many mixed feelings about what she went through and the person it made her, but I do know that my feelings pale in comparison to the demon that she fought for the better part of her life.
I wish I could say I’ve only witnessed the aftermath of abuse in my professional life; however, I know that anyone can see the effects of abuse just by walking down the street, or interacting with someone at the store. One way I’m handling the grief I experience is to talk about ACEs. I want people to know how prevalent this is so that it reduces shame. When we break down these walls, it enables people to seek help earlier.
HOW TO SOCIAL WORK BETTER:
- Learn about ACEs and really do your best to understand how ACEs influence the work you do.
- Understand and explain to others that ACEs do not excuse the behavior! Knowing others’ ACEs simply helps develop empathy so people can understand the rationale behind why people do what they do.
- Get your own ACEs Score! This may also help identify potential triggers you may have as a practitioner.