No One Told Me I Would Grieve My Childhood

By sharing my story, I can break the stigma around trauma and re-integrate parts of myself that were lost.

Written by Krista Galivan

No One Told Me I Would Grieve My Childhood

01 Krista is a mental health advocate who is diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (aka C-PTSD).

02 Krista had a tumultuous childhood. Her father was absent and her mother battled alcoholism. She'd often leave Krista for days or weeks on end, forcing her to parent herself. Krista eventually entered foster care at 13-years-old.

03 Symptoms of C-PTSD became obvious when Krista met her husband. Her childhood trauma interfered with her ability to be in a loving, serious relationship and sparked fears of abandonment.

04 She was eventually diagnosed with PTSD and learned to address her past trauma.

I was an optimistic child and adolescent.

I went to great lengths to maintain a sense of competence and normalcy with others. I got good grades, had a supportive network of friends and a future to look forward to. Little did I know, I would be diagnosed with PTSD as an adult.

Growing up, I was in and out foster care. My father left my mother, due to her unwillingness to terminate her pregnancy. I was introduced to him when I was 7 when my mom and I ran into him in a grocery store parking lot. I had some contact with him after that time and I continue to learn more about him. He died from a drug overdose when I was 11. My mother died of alcoholism when I was 24.

When my mother would drink, she would leave for days and sometimes weeks at a time, giving me no warning, leaving me at our house alone. Sometimes she would leave a note of her location and I would go and find her. When she was home, I would do everything I could to keep her in my sight. I defended her, lied for her and learned to keep her alcoholism a secret. Her alcoholism completely took over her ability to love and care for herself and our family and I became a witness to her abusive relationships. Her behavior was just as erratic at times and ended up landing her in jail more than once.

I entered foster care at age 13, a few weeks before my grade 8 graduation. I was put in an emergency-receiving home for 6 months, until being transferred to a "permanent" home. Although foster care was a positive development in my life, I can also acknowledge the impact such an extended period of instability had on my ability to trust others.

I went to great lengths to maintain a sense of competence and normalcy with others.

I had strong underlying fears of abandonment and my interpersonal relationships were intense. I would vacillate between idealizing closeness with others and pushing them away. I would push people away who might get too close, rather than risking the pain of losing them later. I was terrified of being viewed as "needy" and would typically smooth over even minor signs of possible relational conflict, quickly separating myself from individuals who would initiate it.

I would have thoughts like "I don't need a family; I'd be fine without them." 

It wasn't until I started dating my husband, 4 years ago, that the impacts of this interpersonal childhood trauma and neglect would surface for healing. It didn't take long for me and my husband to realize that up until this point, I didn't know how to hold, process and share difficult emotions. I knew that If I didn't seek help, that I would run from our relationship or sabotage it some other way. I was ready and willing to do whatever it took to make it work.

I started seeing a Relational Psychotherapist and going to Adult Children of Alcoholics support groups. This is when I finally learned that what I experienced as a kid was "traumatic" and I was a "parentifieid child." Most distinctly, I learned I wasn't alone, very far from it. I also learned that I have an "inner child", one that will require nurturing and care, from here on out.

Peeling back layers of repressed emotion was a very messy process and the closer my husband and I got to our wedding day (as the level of commitment and intimacy between us grew) the more trauma-related fears were triggered.

I became distressed and preoccupied with questions such as "Am I safe in this relationship?" and "Am I going backwards?" I was scared that my fiancé would die from addiction like my mother and father.

What Is C-PTSD? (Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)

Complex PTSD is different from PTSD. With PTSD, there’s typically one traumatic incident that an individual is dealing with; however, Complex PTSD is a diagnosis that occurs when a person experiences repeated episodes of trauma.

Over time I started having vivid, intrusive, traumatic memories triggered by the smell of cigarette smoke. I kept getting pulled back to the age of 7, where I would sit on my bedroom floor repeatedly saying in my head, "I hate you, I hate you" to my mother when she was drinking. Layers of grief started to surface, those of my lost childhood, my mother and father. I was in a state of distress and hyper-vigilance, scanning for threats, having mistrustful thinking. I experienced psychic numbing where I was unable to identify what I was feeling.

Compounding this experience was shame and confusion. "I am supposed to be happy. I'm getting married to the love of my life! Why is this happening to me? What’s wrong with me?” I would ask myself. 

Cognitively, I could make sense of the facts: I wasn't in danger and I could trust my fiancé, but my physical and emotional body were lagging behind. 

I was having symptoms of post-traumatic stress. 

After I got a diagnosis for PTSD, I was relieved to hear from my Psychologist that it is very common for individuals who are leading up to marriage who have experienced interpersonal childhood trauma in conjunction with neglect to experience features of PTSD as well as various additional patterns of emotional and relational functioning, sometimes referred to under the umbrella of Complex Post-traumatic Stress.

A weight was lifted and I began to validate and bring awareness to my reality through trauma psychoeducation after my diagnosis. I've now learned that gratitude can't make all of our pain go away and neither can statements like "you just need to put the past in the past" or "just move forward" and that it's not only okay to hold space for pain but often necessary. 

Today, I am happily married to my husband and we are building a healthy, caring relationship. I share my story because keeping it a secret perpetuates the intergenerational transmission of trauma. By sharing, I can help break the stigma around trauma and re-integrate the parts of myself that were lost for years. 

I hope that if you have experienced trauma of any kind or know of anyone that has, that if and when they open up to you, that you listen with intent and care, without judgement or agenda. Listen without trying to fix them.

Krista Galivan is a mental health advocate for Made of Millions. Residing in Toronto with her husband and fur sons, Cooper and Crank, she is passionate about the mysteries of life, astrology and is currently studying the Histories of Mindfulness at the University of Toronto. Feel free to connect with Krista at [email protected]

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