Pins and Needles: Chronic Abuse and Trauma

Our formative years present the potential for self-harm to thrive. Our early experiences, for better or worse, shape us. And sometimes, that shaping can take the form of addiction. Hypervigilance often results from certain incidents, in which trauma somehow established our need to self-medicate.

“… When a child grows up afraid or under constant or extreme stress, the immune system and body’s stress response systems may not develop normally. Later on, when the child or adult is exposed to even ordinary levels of stress, these systems may automatically respond as if the individual is under extreme stress… Adults with histories of trauma in childhood have been shown to have more chronic physical conditions and problems. They may engage in risky behaviors that compound these conditions (e.g., smoking, substance use, and diet and exercise habits that lead to obesity).” “Effects of Complex Trauma,”

My first memory, a traumatic one at that, was when I was three years old; my parents decided to move the family’s sewing machine from one floor of our house to another. But they neglected to remove its drawers, filled with hundreds of needles and pins. Inevitably, I toddled downstairs, stepping on many of them.

What was my next memory? I was on the floor, screaming, while my irritated dad used his pliers to pull out each needle and pin from my feet.

I learned, wrongly so, two main things in that incident:
1) I was “too much trouble,” destined only for pain and
2) I deserved this pain because I was a bad girl.
And these theories were further confirmed by the constant abusive tension within my home. Pain and fear were two things which could not be voiced nor soothed.

“Children who have experienced complex trauma… often internalize and/or externalize stress reactions and as a result may experience significant depression, anxiety, or anger… even mildly stressful interactions with others may serve as trauma reminders and trigger intense emotional responses. Having learned that the world is a dangerous place where even loved ones can’t be trusted to protect you, children are often vigilant and guarded in their interactions with others and are more likely to perceive situations as stressful or dangerous…” “Effects of Complex Trauma,”

So, the coping mechanisms of consumer addiction, emerged in by both my mother and me. Disordered food, body and weight issues were just the tip of the unhealthy iceberg. “Consuming” represented the Savior to us: bingeing on comfort food, shopping, applying any external resource to our pain and fear.

Still, no matter how much – or what – I consumed, I believed the harmful lie: I was bad, I was wrong, I was to blame. The best I could hope for was to attempt to self-soothe and create my own version of “something to look forward to.” Addiction promised to make me feel happy, loved and safe.

No one and nothing else would or could.

The heart knoweth his own bitterness; and a stranger doth not intermeddle with his joy. Proverbs 14:10

How about you? What formative experience traumatized you, even to the point of pursuing an addiction as the healing balm?

Was it abuse?

Was it the loss of a loved one?

Was it divorce?

Was it poverty or homelessness?

These are just a few possible “reasons” why we drink, smoke, inject, eat, gamble, shop, overachieve and have unhealthy relationships with unsafe people. For most of us, there exists at least one critical moment which altered us. It changed our view of self, others and even The Most High.

Each of us has learned wrong spiritual things; we get it wrong. We get it wrong because we know, only too well, our own painful experiences.

The heart knoweth his own bitterness; and a stranger doth not intermeddle with his joy.
Proverbs 14:10

But, we also have the capacity to know something else as well. We have help.

Elohim is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Psalms 46:1

Jeremiah is often referred to as “the weeping prophet;” he is well-acquainted with humanity’s tendencies toward destructive choices.

But, even in that bleak realization, Jeremiah still asserts the presence of hope, even in the hopelessness…

“For I have satiated the weary soul, and I have replenished every sorrowful soul. Jeremiah 31:25

There exists a familiar statement about adversity: “The only way out is through.”

That means we have to acknowledge and experience the scary thing we fear most.

We have to “go there.”

None of it is easy; none of it is fun. It’s much more appealing to just turn to our elixir. Let the drugs, alcohol, food, behavior or relationship erase the pain and ugliness instead of dealing with our most personal damage.

The trauma, perhaps, happened in a second, a one-time event. Or maybe it’s been a reoccurring, deeply enmeshed pattern still active in our lives now. Regardless, there is no shame in admitting we are affected. It doesn’t make us spiritually defective, morally bankrupt or “bad people.” It makes us vulnerable human beings.

And vulnerable is not necessarily the same thing as “sinful.” Vulnerable is about being fragile dust in the sandstorm called life. And our Creator is not caught off guard by that reality.

For He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust. Psalms 103:14

What wounded you? What paralyzed you? What changed you?

Whatever the alteration has been, you and I are loved, accepted and deemed valuable by The Most High.

And whatever we have for experiences, He is not intimidated by any of it.

“Behold, I am… Is there anything too hard for Me?” Jeremiah 32:27

No exceptions whatsoever.