If you haven’t had a chance to read it, stop everything and read the piece published today by Junot Díaz, “The Legacy of Childhood Trauma” in the New Yorker. As a survivor myself, I was absolutely stunned by this powerful reflection on his own personal story and the raw truth it revealed:
The kid before—hard to remember. Trauma is a time traveller, an ouroboros that reaches back and devours everything that came before. Only fragments remain. I remember loving codes and Encyclopedia Brown and pastelones and walking long distances in an effort to learn what lay beyond my N.J. neighborhood. At night I had the most vivid dreams, often about “Star Wars” and about my life back in the Dominican Republic, in Azua, my very own Tatooine. Was just getting to know this new English-speaking me, was just becoming his friend—and then he was gone.
No more spaceship dreams, no more Azua, no more me. Only an abiding sense of wrongness and the unbearable recollection of being violently penetrated.
By the time I was eleven, I was suffering from both depression and uncontrollable rage. By thirteen, I stopped being able to look at myself in the mirror—and the few times I accidentally glimpsed my reflection I’d recoil like I’d got hit in the face by a jellyfish stinger. (What did I see? I saw the crime, my grisly debasement, and if anyone looked at me too long I would run or I would fight.)
By fourteen, I was holding one of my father’s pistols to my head. (He’d been gone a few years, but he’d generously left some of his firearms behind.) I had trouble at home. I had trouble at school. I had mood swings like you wouldn’t believe. Since I’d never told anyone what had happened my family assumed that was just who I was—un maldito loco. And while other kids were exploring crushes and first love I was dealing with intrusive memories of my rape that were so excruciating I had to slam my head against a wall.
Of course, I never got any kind of help, any kind of therapy. Like I said, I never told anyone. In a family as big as mine—five kids—it was easy to get lost, even when you were going under. I remember my mother telling me, after one of my depressions, that I should pray. I didn’t even bother to laugh.
To write a piece like this takes incredible bravery. So many of us continue to struggle in the aftermath of childhood sexual abuse — kids who are now adults who continue to live in shame as if it was something we could have prevented — even though some of us became victims from our earliest memories.
It’s a painful read, but one every adult and every parent should read to understand even with therapy, the impact of childhood trauma lives on.
Beyond all of this, we all need to recognize the fact that so many of our children living in poverty don’t even have the luxury of therapy and support for a wide variety of traumas they face on a daily basis. And we wonder why the cycle continues.