A Letter to My Childhood Self

Dear 11-year-old Ghadeer,

You have been through so much trauma that you actively block out. You tell yourself if you don’t think about it, you won’t feel anything towards it. You were a child but you were so afraid to have emotions. You were a child but you weren’t allowed to be one. You weren’t allowed to listen to kids radio stations, you barely could watch kids channels. You were exposed to adult TV and music way too young. I don’t know how you learned about sex but I suspect it was through abuse.

You felt guilty for existing. You fantasized about bleaching your skin color because you thought only white people could have loving families. The truth was that you grew up in a predominantly white suburb, and that’s why you knew so many white people with loving families. Your friends were allowed to be kids and had supportive parents and siblings. It had nothing to do with your color or their color, baby girl. I know that you couldn’t put the blame on your family, so you found a way to blame yourself.

Your mother telling you that whiter children are cuter hurt you. Your mother telling you to marry someone with blue eyes and blond hair hurt you because you know she only cared how your children would look. You grow up to have a beautiful daughter who is half Mexican and she has gorgeous olive toned skin, just like you. She has dark brown eyes and dark brown hair and she is absolutely perfect in every way.

You were physically, mentally, emotionally, and sexually abused growing up but your parents invalidated you by saying that it was just siblings playing. Your brothers were just being boys. You felt so much pressure to be a girly girl because that’s how you were taught girls should be.

You were so young and you felt so ugly. You had a lot of things you wanted to change about yourself. You grew up thinking as long as you have someone who loved you unconditionally and passionately, you would be fine. The truth is that you needed that from your family so that you could learn to do it on your own. Your parents told your brothers they would grow up to do big things. Your parents told you that you will grow up to get married.

You saw so much so young. You needed to process things that you had no idea how to process. You were a child. Children can’t process those huge things. You needed your family to help you but you didn’t have that. You were raised by narcissists and they made you feel like your feelings didn’t matter, but they did matter.

I am here now. I know you are living inside me and you are still hurting. I am here and I am going to hug you every day and remind you that you are loved and you are perfect and that your existence is a blessing, not a burden. Your appearance isn’t the only thing you have to offer the world. You are funny and sweet. You were a little obnoxious but that was because you were searching for the attention you didn’t receive at home. I forgive you for that. Your true self loves making people laugh and smile. Your true self has a heart of gold. Your true self gives people too many chances and ends up hurt but does it over and over, just to make the lives of others easier.

Baby girl, you’ve been through so much. There was so much trauma and emotional neglect, so much bullying, so many mean people at school and at home, sexual abuse, physical abuse, mental and emotional abuse, and so much more that lots of people never have to experience in their whole life. You keep a lot of it to yourself because you don’t want anyone to look at you differently. You have no idea the magnitude of how bad the issues you have are. You are raising yourself. A child should never have to raise a child.

I don’t even remember a lot of what you went through because your innocent child heart couldn’t bear the thought of it all. You simply trained yourself not to think about the horrible things and now they are gone from my brain. That’s okay. I know you are protecting me from a lot of information that I’m not yet equipped to handle.

I want you to know that I love you. You were always so fiery and energetic and everyone tried to put out your flames any chance they could. I’m so sorry that you didn’t get the chance to meet anyone who understood you truly. I’m sorry that you grew up alone because your family was never there for you and because you struggled to maintain friendships through all of the moving and mental health issues. I’m here for you now. It’s okay to be so energetic, you were just a child. You get better every day and you are learning to love yourself.

Thank you for surviving until adulthood, I know it was so hard. You can heal now. We are gonna do great together.

What it’s like dating when you have PTSD

In my last blog post, I explained that I left an unhealthy relationship and now I’m single.

I’ve never experienced feeling truly loved unconditionally. My family never loved me. They said they did and I believed them for a very long time. Recently, my mother (who is cut off) found out that I left my ex and she said she felt bad for him and that I should go back to him. When she found out he cheated on me, she said that it was my fault he cheated. My mother also told me she would pray for me to get cancer and that she’d tell everyone who asked I died because I introduced my ex to her and she wasn’t a fan of his race.

My father would tell me he loved me all the time but he manipulated me over and over. He has been on and off drugs and in and out of prison my entire life. He wants me to fit into the mold he has in his head of what his daughter should be. He wants me to be a good little girl and live at home because god forbid a woman lives on her own. I left my husband and they want me to live with them. Although I’m 23 and I have a toddler, they will certainly control me. They will want to know where I’m going and they will want me home at a certain time. They won’t let me spend the night anywhere except at home and lord knows they’d never, ever let me date. I need to be on my own.

I need to get to know myself. And I am getting to know myself. I realized that I’m actually a very friendly person, behind my fear of people. At my new job, I’ve been having no issues getting along with anyone and making connections here and there. I also realized that I’m funny and I love to laugh. I get along best with people who I can joke with all the time, even during bad times. I like dark humor. I’m also extremely insecure.

Because of my past traumas, I get attached to anyone who makes me feel loved, even if it’s just for a night. After leaving my ex, I’ve been on dating apps, looking for hook ups because that high I get while I’m wrapped up in someone else, completely vulnerable, is addicting. I fell hard for the first person I slept with after my ex (who took my virginity and was the only one until we broke up). This guy said all the right things, he was sweet and he knew exactly what to do. I honestly should have known how it’d end up. He seemed too perfect. Of course, it was all a lie. He continued to use me afterwards and I wanted him so badly I would’ve done anything for him. He’d ignore me all day long until he needed something but seeing his name pop up on my screen gave me a hit of sweet dopamine, which is undeniably the best “drug” on planet earth.

Fortunately, through my hook ups and me getting to know myself, I realized the toll the relationship was taking on me. He came along at a horrible time in my life. It was probably the day I got out of the psych ward when he first messaged me and we got to talking. He was really great in the beginning. That’s why I got so attached. Having someone hold my face in their hands, smile at me with so much love in their eyes and tell me that they can’t believe I’m real and that I’m so perfect really got to me. My ex never did anything like that. I was always, and still am, very affectionate and touchy-feely with the person I like. Once upon a time, back when I liked my ex, I was like that with him too but he was always cold to me. He didn’t like affection or physical touch and made me feel like I was bothering him. Eventually, I lost interest. Ironically, the tables turned and towards the end he tried to rekindle things by being affectionate and touchy-feely. By that point, I wanted nothing to do with it. I didn’t want his affection and I didn’t want him close to me. For a long time, I thought I didn’t like to cuddle while I slept but I learned that was wrong when I fell asleep wrapped up in the first guy I slept with after my ex.

Because I’ve never felt warmth and love, I’ve never had someone who wanted to hold me and kiss me all the time and tell me sweet things, I crave it. When I feel that from someone, I become very attached very quickly and I’ll do anything to get that feeling again. I’ll show up at the house of a guy I’ve never met in person before to feel love for the night. When I do that, I don’t consider my own safety. I don’t even let anyone know where I’m going. But I didn’t have any scary situations until a few days ago.

I deleted the dating apps. What I need now is to have boundaries. I can’t give all of myself to someone who hasn’t earned it. I need consistency. I don’t want someone who talks to me only when they feel like it and ignore me for days on end. My friends’ and family’s love is conditional. If I don’t meet their expectations, I’m not worthy of love. If I make too many mistakes in my own life, they will cut me off. If I head down a similar path I went down, everyone will tell me it’s all my fault, like everyone did before. I was forced into a sexual act on a bumble date and everyone told me it was my fault, that I should’ve done this or that. The reality was that I was in a neighborhood I didn’t know in a place full of his friends. But it was my fault that he forced me to give him head until I puked, and then continued to shove my face into my own puke. I should’ve acted the way everyone else would’ve or else it’s all my fault. I should’ve listened to everyone who told me my ex would break my heart, or that the last guy I fell for after him was shady. That’s what they’ll say and I know that because that’s what they have said.

My therapist and I had a talk about my craving to be loved. The craving I have for unconditional love is something I can provide for myself. I can love myself unconditionally. I can give myself a hug, as silly as it might feel. I can give myself the compliments and reassuring words that I need to hear. I can give myself consistent love. I can even satisfy my own sexual needs. I need to learn this because otherwise I won’t ever be able to experience a healthy, loving relationship.

If I don’t learn to love myself, I will always choose the person who does show me love and affection over myself. Even if that love and affection comes with abuse. That’s what I’m used to. Growing up, “I love you” always came at a price. It always felt weird to say I love you to my parents or my siblings. “I love you” was a phrase that was hard for me to learn how to say truthfully. But now it’s something I say all the time because I want the people that I love to know that I love them. Even with my ex, I told him I loved him several times a day. Despite the fact that he said it back, he didn’t show it. And now I have a hard time trusting “I love you”s. It’s hard for me to trust words so I rely on actions and then when there isn’t much action, I panic.

I need to set boundaries. I need to slowly learn to love another person and not attach myself to them at the first sign of warmth. I need to learn how to give myself the unconditional love I crave so badly. I need to be able to recognize that sometimes people who are using, abusing, or manipulating me can show me affection and warmth and that shouldn’t be worth more than my own sanity.

That’s what people mean by “love yourself first”. It doesn’t mean that you are narcissistic or that you are having a good time. It means that even when things are bad, you choose to fill your own cup before you sacrifice pieces of yourself for others. Connections and socializing and love and relationships are incredible and necessary for the social creatures that humans are, but you’re worth too much to give chunks of yourself to people who don’t deserve it.

The Circle of Security

The circle of security is a very valuable lesson on parenting that changed the way I parent my child. The circle is made for parents and their children, however it can often be applied to other relationships as well.

To begin this entry, I want to say that there are no perfect parents and everyone struggles at some point on the circle.

The top of the circle is where a child goes out to explore. The parent plays the part of the welcome arms, the secure base and safe haven. Exploration is necessary for every child’s development and they begin even as newborns. Their circles start out very, very small, such as looking around and then returning to the mother. A toddler and older children have larger circles that continue to grow. The parent’s role in their exploration is to support them. Talk to them about what they’re doing and be engaged. Help them when they need it. For a toddler, this will look like keeping an eye on them while they play and being engaged. The best way to support a child’s exploration is to narrate what they’re doing. For example, “Oh, did you find a lego? You’re putting the green lego on top of the red lego? Uh oh, did they fall down?” You don’t need to do this every second of every day but pay attention to your child’s cues. They can sense when you struggle with the top of the circle and that can cause miscues. If your child looks at you while playing, they want to know you’re there and you’re engaged with them. Even while doing work or chores, keeping an eye on them and engaging every so often is great and your child will feel more secure.

A child can sense that a parent is struggling with part of the circle as early as eleven months. When a parent has anxiety about letting a child explore, they can feel that. There are many parents who want to keep their children sheltered because they know they will be safe. Exploration is a huge part of growth and it’s important to give them that opportunity. Odds are, your child will be hurt at some point. I know that thought can be terrifying but they learn from it. A child who is locked away at home all the time with helicopter parents can grow to resent their parents for not allowing them to experience their childhood. Instead of sheltering them, allow them the opportunity to explore. If they are hurt, they will come back to you on the bottom of the circle and you can play your role as a parent by being the safe haven they can always return to. That gives children the freedom to make mistakes and the security of having a loving parent always there to fall back on. You can teach them how to be safe and give them the tools for success but mistakes are learning opportunities.

The bottom of the circle is where your child returns to you for comfort. In a small infant, this looks like them wanting to make eye contact with you or interact with you. You are their safe haven. In a toddler or older child, this looks like them coming back to you to connect and for comfort. The parent’s role in this situation is to provide that comfort and connection, but don’t judge it. There are no bad emotions and allowing your child to feel and explore those emotions will provide them with emotional security later in life. When your child is crying and comes to you for comfort, it’s important not to make them feel as though their feelings are invalid. When your child wants a red cup and you give them the blue cup because the red cup is in the dishwasher, and they cry and tantrum because they wanted the red cup, validate their feelings anyway. It might seem small to you but to them, its huge. They feel big feelings and those feelings are okay. My daughter is 18 months and tantrums when I won’t give her my water bottle. She always has her own and even if it’s full, for some reason mommy’s just looks so much better. I don’t like sharing because of the back wash and then she will often throw a tantrum. In this scenario, I comfort her so that she knows when she feels big feelings, even towards me, I’ll be there with her. But I won’t give in to her demands because I don’t want to teach her that crying will get her what she wants. I don’t ignore her because then she will feel like her feelings are unimportant to me.

A parent that struggles with the bottom of the circle often is overwhelmed by a child’s big emotions. These parents often never had a safe haven to run to and feel uncomfortable with it because they have no experience with it. As someone who has always repressed my feelings due to the invalidation from my parents, I often struggle to let Salma in when she needs it. I have no idea what to do sometimes because no one has ever done it for me. This one is hard to break. What I do is I hug her and tell her “mommy’s here” and stroke her back until she calms down. Every parent and every child is different so this might not work for everyone, but I recommend exploring different ways to comfort until you find one that feels comfortable for both of you.

When parents struggle with part of the circle, children can sense it and that causes miscues. When a parent struggles with the top of the circle, a child might act like they want comfort and protection when they actually want to explore. When a parent struggles with the bottom of the circle, a child might act like they want to explore when they really just want comfort. I never thought I struggled with the top of the circle until I learned about miscues and I realized that Salma does come to me acting like she needs comfort but she really just wants to play. It hit me that I tend to check out whenever Salma is playing. I am not engaged with her at all and just leaving her to her own devices. Once I realized this, I made an effort to engage with her. We colored together for the first time and she had a lot of fun. She’s also been much better about not miscuing me.

I highly recommend googling the circle of security. The founders of it have tons of free YouTube videos with in-depth lessons on it. Even while you’re healing, it’s important to repair the bond with your child and to help them feel secure so that you can break the cycle. Like I said, no one is perfect and every parent struggles somewhere on the circle. However, what matters is the effort you put in. As long as it’s good enough, your child will feel secure with you.

The Deep Trenches of Depressive Episodes

A large portion of the world is in quarantine with covid-19 wreaking havoc on the human population. Quarantine can be difficult in a lot of ways. For people experiencing a depressive episode, being stuck at home can feel awful. There isn’t any distractions and sometimes the people you live with are your stressors. So what do you do in a crisis? What do you do when you’re having a panic attack?

It’s important to learn your personal signs that you’re in the warning zone. In one of my therapy groups, we talked about the “window of tolerance”, where we identified how we feel when we are in our comfort zone, how we feel when we are in the warning zone, or the “shutters”, and how we feel when we hit the wall. For me, personally, in my comfort zone I am calm, not tense or on edge, and my body is a normal temperature. When I get into my warning zone, which you also may have heard it as fight or flight, I feel hotter and I might sweat. My heart beats really fast and I’m easily startled. I might tremble and feel restless. When I hit the wall, I tend to shut down, dissociate, cry, ruminate, isolate. I feel cold. This is my own window of tolerance signs and everyone is different.

These different phases of a crisis that we go through are activated in different parts of the brain. The only was humans can control their nervous system is through breathing. When you get into that warning zone and you know you’re nearing the wall, that’s when you can most easily stop it. It’s important to know that the advice I’m going to give you isn’t going to take the pain away. The road to recovery requires you to feel your pain. There are ways to make it easier as I will describe, however they won’t completely take it away.

When you’re in the warning zone, this is when you should take action. You can use a weighted blanket or a weighted ball (cheaper than a weighted blanket, I got mine for 5 dollars at 5 below). The pressure gives your brain something to focus on and it can actually feel good. Weight can keep you grounded. Distracting is a great way to bring you back down to your comfort zone. Playing a game, watching TV, browsing the internet are all useful ways to bring you from your warning zone back to your comfort zone. Mindfulness is great! There are guided meditations everywhere online, including on YouTube. Doing a puzzle or coloring, or anything else you enjoy doing that you can stay present while doing it are good ways to distract.

When you’ve already hit the wall, there are still ways to bring you back. Something I was unaware of until I learned about it in group is that daydreaming and getting lost in your thoughts is dissociation. Dissociation is the brain’s way of protecting itself in dangerous situations and can happen when you hit the wall. If you’re someone whose experienced a lot of trauma, especially as a young child, the pathway between comfortable and hitting the wall will be well paved and much smaller. For as long as I can remember, daydreaming has been almost euphoric. It’s been my go-to in any uncomfortable situation. I didn’t even realize I was hitting the wall. I never felt fight or flight because that path was so well paved. So why do you want to stop daydreaming if it keeps you from your situation and it makes your body release endorphins? Because it keeps you from recovery. When you daydream, you fly high off the curve and when you come back from it, you drop steeply back down to comfort. Doing this, you don’t process at all what you’re going through.

Connecting with people is an incredibly powerful tool. If you have hit the wall, connecting is a very good way to bring you back. By connection, I mean genuine vulnerability. Don’t be embarrassed to be vulnerable with others. People respect you more. Everyone is vulnerable inside, and it’s easy to relate to someone who expresses vulnerability. Be honest about what you’re going through.

Intense exercise is another way to bring you back to your comfort zone, or at least the warning zone. Sometimes when you’re having a panic attack and can’t sit still, all you need to do is stand and do jumping jacks or run in place. Another way is temperature. Using ice or a cold pack on your hands, wrists, face, or back of your neck can calm you down.

There is no way to cure the pain. The only way to recover from a trauma is the hard way; feeling it. It’s so hard to feel the pain and accept it. I repressed the pain of my childhood traumas because I convinced myself it was normal. In my brain, I was somehow less than all my classmates. They were better than me and that’s why they didn’t have to experience those things. I know now that I was wrong and that no child in the world deserves what I went through. I was my beautiful daughter’s age when my mother started physically abusing me. I could never imagine hurting my baby girl. Sometimes I cry when she and I bond just because I feel robbed of a mother. I wish that my mother could have loved me the way I love my baby.

But I can’t change the past. That’s why I’m doing trauma work. I’m struggling to accept that it happened and I’m grieving for my child self. When you feel sad or angry or anything in regards to your trauma, just sit with it. Don’t question it or judge it. There are no bad feelings. All feelings are valid and don’t deserve to be pushed away. You feel those things for a reason. You don’t need to wonder why or how or when, or try to make it worse, or try to make it better. Just accept that it is. Focus on the feeling. You might be able to uncover some truth behind it and why it’s there.