An Ode Against “Recovery”: Flourishing After Childhood Trauma by Rebecca Donaldson
I remember when a therapist of mine once told me I could “recover.”
The word did not sit well with me.
“Recover from what?” I thought, as I sat there crying.
I had nothing I wanted to recover from.
I wasn’t an addict.
I wasn’t harming myself.
I wasn’t sick.
I wasn’t dying.
I wasn’t mentally ill.
I was the product of developmental trauma.
I was hurting alone without a family.
I was hurting trying to survive on my own.
I was hurting attempting to fake who I was so nobody would know my truth.
“Recover,” I said again to myself.
“Recover from what?”
I didn’t get it then, and I still don’t.
You see, she was looking at me as the problem.
My big emotions didn’t make sense to her.
My desire for a family was somehow pathological.
My little dating experience was seen as identity confusion.
My yearning for a mother was far from “normal.”
“Recover?” I thought again.
“Recover from what?”
My big emotions made sense to me.
I didn’t have a family to go home to.
Dating scared me because I was forbidden to do so until I left my childhood home for a better life.
I grew up exposed to drugs and alcohol abuse.
I grew up being told I was worthless and a piece of shi*.
I grew up the black sheep.
I grew up being choked, shoved into walls, and told that I was to obey because my father was, as he put it- “God.”
I wasn’t adored.
I wasn’t shown love.
I wasn’t cherished.
Instead, I was told over and over to “suck it up.”
“Recover from what?”, I kept thinking as I drove home that day.
I didn’t agree with her.
All she saw was a sobbing adult who could not control her emotions sitting in front of her.
I saw a completely different picture.
I saw every hard age of my life- 3, 5, 7, 8, 13, 15, 21, 24, 25, 27, and 28.
I saw drugs, abuse, and neglect.
I saw his hand on my throat, my mother passed out on drugs in the afternoon, and the rats caught in our cage on our porch.
I still feel the fear in my right shoulder and in my feet.
I feel myself become little.
I feel the trauma.
I didn’t need to “recover” from anything.
I needed to be shown consistency and compassion.
I needed to feel secure attachment and be allowed to express myself.
That day, I knew I needed a different therapist.
I didn’t need a therapist who told me she “saw things differently.”
I needed one who truly understood the effects of childhood trauma and who didn’t look at me as someone needing to recover, but rather, someone who needed encouragement to flourish.
I needed a therapist who could talk to my young crying child parts and not do as this therapist had done and yell, “I can’t hear you!” as a I sobbed (Yes, this happened).
So, I left, and I never went back.
Instead, I went exploring on my own.
I fell in love with the works of Gabor Mate, Dick Schwartz, Urie Bronfenbrenner, Tara Brach, Judith Herman, Janina Fisher, and Peter Levine.
I read all the literature I could on attachment theory by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth.
I enrolled in a positive developmental psychology program to understand how I could help heal my wounds and those of others.
I joined Drop the Disorder and began performing slam poetry about the harm done to childhood trauma survivors by professionals in the mental health field who label them with things like “Borderline Personality Disorder.”
I found a wonderful therapist who has held the hearts of my younger selves tenderly and taught me to do the same for them.
Above all, I found my voice so that therapist and the rest of the world can hear me when I now say, “I’m speaking.”
Today, with the help of my new psychotherapist and a voice specialist, I’m holding my nervous feet with compassion so they remain planted on the floor and I’m settling into the resonance of my voice and learning to love my authentic self.
You see, I had nothing to recover from.
All I needed was help not thinking I was broken and needing recovery.
All I needed was compassion.
All I needed was to find my voice and love myself.
Today, I’m doing just this.
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Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.