I remember sitting alone, hiding on the floor of a dark closet when I first met him. I was around 7-years-old and could still hear my mother and stepfather yelling about me in the other room. My lower back and butt were radiating heat from the areas the metal cooking spoon was used to “discipline” me. I could feel the pressure build on my tear soaked face as I held my knees close to my chest to help keep my forced breathing quiet. Their discipline was forged out of their own fear and anger and had very little rationale to it. As a child, all I could see was that I was a problem that needed to be fixed. With this as the backdrop he introduced himself to me saying “This is not you. You are not them, and you will prove it. We will fix this”. He was the 7-year-old part of me that had to grow up to help save my life because during that time I needed him to survive.
Since that time, he has been a constant companion. It is hard to articulate exactly how he shows up. It is not so much a voice as a feeling that starts in my stomach and moves up to my brain with the subtle message, “something is wrong and we need to fix it to be okay”. What is it that I need to fix? Anything that makes me feel uncomfortable. Even if it is not really my problem to solve, I still believe that it is mine to fix. If I can’t fix it flawlessly then this part of me deflates back to that 7-year-old’s shame that I am not enough.
Today my situation is very different and he still shows up, but in inappropriate ways. For example last week my wife came to me with an issue that she was having with someone else in her life. She confided in me about the situation and how frustrated she felt. Seeing my wife distressed made me uncomfortable. Now, I am not a therapist, but my 7-year-old part loves to play one in my marriage. Immediately I started to explain to her how she needed to “fix” herself and thus, the situation. She did not agree with my assessment, which made the 7-year-old start to feel inadequate so I doubled-down even harder on what she needed to fix. I had to have the answer or I wasn’t enough for her.
This part of me had taken a moment of beauty in which I could have been there for my wife as a confidant and friend. Just listening to her needs and being there to support her. She just needed her partner to walk through the fire with her. Instead this part of me compounded her issue by taking it away from her and making it about me.
This story illustrates the reality of living with childhood trauma. It is not all nightmares and flashbacks. In fact the more healing that I do, the more I see the effects of trauma in my relationships, especially with my wife and children.
Don’t worry, my wife and I are still happily married and this story is actually a victory. It shows me that I can now see these patterns and work to change them. The point now is to shorten the time that it takes my mature adult self to take over and give that little 7-year-old self a hug and tell him “You did a good job and we don’t have to fix it anymore. We are enough because we are.”
Tyler Reitzner is a Patient Leader, Speaker and Behavioral Health Advocate. He lives with his wife and two boys in Minnesota.
Board Member: MN Trauma Project http://www.mntraumaproject.org/
Board Member: Minnesota Recovery Connection https://minnesotarecovery.org/
Director of Marketing and Outreach: FRrē, Family Recovery Resource Experts https://frre.net/
Coming this October! Podcast series and website, Strength in Brokenness, with Tyler and Dr. Ryan Van Wyk.