“Repurposing is the process by which an object with one use value is transformed or redeployed as an object with an alternative use value” - Wikipedia
My history with therapy began some 25 years ago when I was first diagnosed with major depressive disorder. Through those previous decades of therapy, I blindly went through the process. That is not to say I didn’t put in the work. I did. I simply didn’t pay close attention to the type of therapy.
The pandemic was life altering for me, as it was for everyone. During a global worst case scenario, I was afforded the opportunity of time. I was able to pursue a new form of therapy that worked for me and landed in the type of therapy I was missing all along. In February 2020, I began my journey with a trauma therapist.
To say I immediately took to the format would be disingenuous. Not only did I find her personality a bit “over the top” and jarring to my quiet exterior, it was nearly impossible to accept that the word “trauma” applied to my life. I never had it that bad. It took about six months to accept the notion of “little t” trauma. Death by a thousand little cuts. That understanding was a game changer.
Traumatic experiences alter neural landscapes. They do even more damage when not afforded the space for healthy processing. Many of my traumas distill down to not receiving the type of nurturing I needed as a sensitive soul. After a thousand little cuts that I could make no sense of, I concluded that my essence was wrong. In an attempt to visually convey how my inner child had created defense mechanisms against all emotions, I sent my therapist a meme captioned “Me Holding it Together” above a telephone pole strapped upright by a vast amount of duct tape.
Over the past few weeks, I have experienced a series of depression triggering events. Outside of therapy, I have been incorporating mindfulness meditation, which provided a body awareness in how often I experience depression as exhaustion. I noticed it deeply on a day where I was meant to be going to book club after work. By 3:00 pm that day, I knew I didn’t have it in me to go. Prior to trauma therapy, I would have followed my old pattern and gone anyway. I dislike canceling at the last minute so, regardless of my needs, I put others first. That day, I chose to email my friend to tell her I needed to cancel and why. I trusted she knew my character well enough to understand that I as not making the decision to cancel lightly. She understood and I went home to take a two hour nap.
In talking to my therapist about the decision, I had an epiphany. I had repurposed my duct tape. It was still there in my mental health tool kit, but instead of slapping on five entire rolls so as to not experience emotions, I used it to create a boundary. Boundary success!
We all create methods to survive childhood circumstances we could not understand. They were our protection; our inner child often wants to use them still. Go ahead. Use them. Just don’t use them the same way. Old patterns of survival are not necessarily effective now. Repurposing our defenses to better reflect our adult self’s needs honors our inner child while encouraging growth. It is a glorious moment of transformation, pride, and power.
Written by Lisa Wessner an asexual-spectrum she/they lesbian and molecular biologist working on her retirement career as a mental health advocate
By Candace Schoner
My love for writing goes back to my early childhood. It served as my voice when I could not speak the truth out loud. We didn’t have a lot of money back then, so I saved every penny of my weekly allowance to pay for my little black diary which I kept hidden under my bed. Despite being the youngest of four siblings, my diary became my best friend. Every night before I went to sleep, I would write about my innermost thoughts.
As the youngest child raised by an alcoholic father and narcissistic mother who argued constantly, I tried hard to remain invisible at home and at school. It was a lonely existence and having a place to share my feelings, even if it was only on paper, made it bearable.
Decades later, through therapy, I learned that my childhood experience, psychologically speaking, was considered a “trauma.” How could that be? I was not kidnapped, sexually abused, beaten, or tortured by anyone. I did not lose a limb to an injury, an illness, or war. Yet, deep inside me are scars that may never heal completely.
Trauma is defined as a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. It can also be described as personal trauma like the death of a child. In my case, I lived in constant fear of not knowing when my parents' arguments would turn violent and require police intervention.
Living with an unpredictable alcoholic father felt like living in a war zone. By the time I turned 15 and went off to college, my father had broken several windows, punched multiple holes in the walls, and nearly killed my mother by throwing her down a flight of stairs.
As a child, I could not understand why she stayed married to someone who abused her both mentally and physically.
Most of the time when they argued, I would curl-up in the dark under my bed covers trying to drown out the terrifying sounds. On one occasion, when I heard my mother falling down the steps after my father threatened to kill her, I came out of hiding and intervened on her behalf, pleading with my father to stop his tirade and just leave. As far as I know, that was the last time he physically abused my mom. Unfortunately, the mental abuse continued all through their marriage.
You may be wondering what my other siblings were doing during these violent episodes. The oldest two usually stayed after school or went to a friends' home to study. My middle sister usually fled the scene before it got too ugly.
As the youngest child, I felt it was my job to keep the peace, using humor to deflect from my father’s anger which grew the more he drank. If my father were a child, then alcohol was his pacifier. Whenever he was stressed or overly tired, he would reach for a bottle of vodka or gin, like a child grabbing for their pacifier.
The truth is, as memory serves me, my father was either angry, depressed, or deliriously happy. He had high highs and low lows. If he were still alive today, his diagnosis would probably be bipolar disorder. Eventually, his excessive drinking, unhealthy eating habits, and three heart attacks led to his early death at age 60.
One of my biggest fears growing up was that I would turn out like my dad; an angry alcoholic, working 60-hours a week just to pay bills. Lucky for me, I was not interested in alcohol or any illegal substances. However, I did inherit his entrepreneur spirit and mood disorder.
It’s amazing that after all this time, I still feel the anger, disappointment, and sadness associated with my adolescence years. Yet, I am somewhat thankful too because it gave me strength that I didn’t know was possible.
When I think back, which I try not to do often, I realize that my mother was not blameless. She could have done a better job at protecting me and my siblings. To this day, she and I never talk about my childhood or my biological father. It’s like it never happened.
At times, I want to clear the air and ask her why she stayed in an abusive relationship. I want to tell her how pissed off I am at her and what an awful mother she was but I can’t. I can’t because she is a 91 year old narcissist who has out-lived two husbands, her parents, five siblings, all of her friends, and most recently her son, my brother. Confronting her now would not change the past or the future.
So for now, I bite my tongue and continue to keep the peace. After all, it is easier for me to write about my childhood trauma than to speak it out loud.