I have spent a large portion of my life thinking about emotions, mental health, and how to improve handling my emotions and staying mentally healthy. I have not been very successful with either of those for most of my life. I have struggled with rage, depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. I managed all of that very poorly and didn’t want help for most of my life. I just kept taking things as they came at me, smiling through the pain, and pushing it deep down where I could ignore it. But why? Why not just deal with it and move on? It turns out that sometimes it takes a lot to over come an upbringing that doesn’t have room for mental health considerations.
As a small child, I had extreme stomachaches that had no medical cause. I remember laying on the floor, crying because it hurt so badly. Being my parents’ firstborn, they took me to the doctor panicked, who assured them I was physically fine. And then he said small children often only know “tummy” so any pain they feel is associated with that one area of the body.
My stomach started hurting when I was 4/5 years old. I wet the bed at night. I cried a lot. And I was watching domestic violence routinely at my babysitter’s house when I was there, which was every single weekday. The father beat his wife, my babysitter. I saw him hit and punch her, scream in her face, and say terrible things to her. I saw him beat his six children so much that one of his three sons had a stutter that made him very difficult to understand. This abuse they endured made them cold and angry. Some of them were adults by the time I remember them and had moved out of the house. The younger three where two daughters and the stuttering son. Those two daughters beat most of us, as did the babysitter. She had a paddle for us and her daughters picked switches off the trees in the backyard.
The first beating I remember is from the middle daughter, who was the 4th child of their family. She told me to bring everyone inside if it started raining. I was 5 and it was the summer before I started school. The rain started and I didn’t want to go inside, so we kept playing. When we were dragged in, she pulled me by the shirt to this recliner she had been sitting in. Then she started interrogating me and screaming in my face. Why didn’t I come in when I felt the rain? Why did she have to come out and yell at us to come in? Why was I such a brat. And then she hit my hand hard.
That was the only the beginning of one of the scariest times of my life. Even though I was hit often and my brother was hit even more, I don’t think I ever told my parents how bad it was. I didn’t want to talk about it and there was something shameful about it, like I shouldn’t say anything outside of those walls. I used to feel like I had done something to deserve those beatings. And I was raised that if an adult accused me of something, my parents’ reaction was punishment first, then ask questions. After being beaten and screamed at once, there didn’t seem to be any reason to tell on myself and possibly get into more trouble.
This is what was behind the stomachaches. The fear and shame of living though domestic abuse coupled with the idea that I was somehow responsible for what was happening to me. It’s just too heavy for a little kid to witness it, and also to end up being abused. I’m not sure that this is an issue that anyone ever talks about or studies. There were other kids there too, but I’m not sure if they remember as much of it as I do. And because it influences me so much, even to this day, I don’t want to just drop in on these other people with traumatizing memories. For me, the only way to fully heal from this is to acknowledge the pain, shame, and fear. It hurts but I know that it does feel better to finally process these emotions. It was a coping mechanism that I used up until recently, so I still have so much raw emotion to push through as I can handle it. Slow and steady…