All the Pretty Stars: My Trauma


My heart is pounding so fast I think it will explode. My head is throbbing and I’m seeing black spots at the edge of my vision. Rage. I am feeling pure unadulterated rage. As if from somewhere outside my body, I hear my own voice screaming, “F*CK YOU!!! You will NEVER EVER touch me! No more destroying property. Don’t you dare make a fist at dad. You are an ANIMAL Only an animal hits people and attacks them. It’s OVER!!! NEVER AGAIN, DO YOU HEAR ME?!?!

My son is inches from my face, screaming at me, and I’m clutching his shoulders screaming at him. Yeah, not at all productive.

“You’re choking me!” he yells, “You said you’d never hit me no matter what! You LIED.”

I’m not choking him or hitting him. What I am doing is scaring him. This is something unprecedented. I have never done this before. I’m screaming back.

“You think you can hurt ME a grown adult?! You want to scream and yell and try to scare me?! How do you like it?! I deal with this all the f*cking time!” These words are coming out of my mouth.

His words are hurtful (they always are when he rages) and now so are mine. The out-of-body me is shocked and horrified that I am screaming in my son’s face. I can barely breathe for all the pent up fury I am spewing out.

“Do you think it’s OK to hit me because I’m nice and I don’t hurt you? Do you think you can KEEP GOD***N HITTING ME?!?!? F*CK YOU!!!!!THIS IS OVER!!!! I WILL NOT LIVE LIKE THIS!!! You are NOT stronger! You will NEVER F*cking touch me EVER again. You think it feels good to hit people? Too bad! NO MORE! Normal people don’t act like this. I am DONE.”

As if to punctuate my statement I angle myself to lean my weight on something while I take a swing at the door. With my cane. There is a loud crack and a hole appears in the door.  In the 4 years we’ve had our children they have attacked the doors many, many times. The bedroom doors have never broken.

All the closet doors were ripped off years ago. The children have punctured the walls and ripped apart the furniture. They have broken windows, and most of our screens are missing. This house has been under child attack for quite some time. Our bedroom and hallway closets hang on by a rickety rigging system. But the bedroom doors? They bend under assault but they have never, ever broken. Until now.

In that instant I can see that I am broken, too. I shuffle into my room with my cane and shut the door. He wasn’t actually trying to hit me. Carl was trying to punch dad. He didn’t actually come for me he was just screaming obscenities. I gasp for breath and curl up in a ball on the floor.

I don’t want to be the strongest. I don’t want to be the loudest. And I don’t want to try and be a better mom to the very people that want me dead. My 11-year-old son is shouting that he will leave and find another mom. He will never come home from school. A few weeks ago our daughter planned to kill us.

I don’t even care. I just curl up and try to breathe. I am still seeing stars. I don’t even recognize myself anymore. Even Luke is a bit fearful to approach me. He eventually gets Carl into bed and offers a quiet, “You ok?” along with an ice water. I cannot answer because I cannot breathe. All three of us are shocked. Mom never loses it.

I recently started EMDR therapy for myself. It’s supposed to be very effective but its bringing up a lot of triggers in the process. I understand triggers now. I can see it from Carl and Mary’s perspective, at least a bit. I startle when people talk loudly. I hate being touched unawares. I can’t even have the kitties snuggle me for long. Sleep is ever-elusive and my hair has started falling out in clumps. I see my doctor immediately after the incident, and she prescribes Ativan to help me through the panic attacks. She encourages me to continue EMDR.

I am like the bedroom door. I’ve bent for years, accommodating the trauma of my children. Parenting therapeutically. Writing safety plans. Downplaying holidays like Christmas and Mother’s day. Being hypervigilant to signs that they are hungry, having a sensory need, or simply tired. Bobbing and parrying and darting out of the line of attack. I have de-escalated more tantrums in my lifetime than I care to count. And I’ve always named the feeling. Practiced the do-overs. Practiced rephrasing messages. I’ve done it all. There have been improvements over the years. I think Carl is better, even if he can’t always control his rage. I don’t blame him. Apparently neither can I.

Now I have my own trauma. I have trauma that my children inflicted on me because they once experienced it. Mary is getting treatment in RTC now, but I still sleep with the deadbolt locked. It’s not because of some mysterious childhood trauma that’s come up. No, it’s the fact that every rage one of them goes into reminds me of all the years worth of rages. Sort of like Chinese water torture. It doesn’t matter that I’m not being physically hurt anymore. I remember being hurt. Drip, drip, drip. Every insult or obscenity reminds me of another, older one. Drip, drip, drip.

My neurosurgeon tells me I will likely  never be “asymptomatic” again. My ongoing work injury is just another part of the torture. Drip, drip, drip. We will have to wait until a year after surgery to know if the nerve damage is permanent. He avoids my eyes when I ask about the use of my right leg. He won’t answer me if I will ever drive again or walk without a cane. All he says is that we have to wait. Who am I? Who have I become?

When I later sit down with Carl I sincerely and thoroughly apologize. I explain to him that it’s never OK for me to grab him. I should never scream at him especially close to his face. That behavior is verbal abuse, and from now on Daddy will handle the upsetting situations while mom works hard in therapy. And also, I’m really really glad he didn’t just punch me when we were that close. That would have ended differently even a year ago. He was able to maintain more control than I was.

Carl says he thinks I am very strong and has decided not to throw things at me and smash them in my presence. He is sorry he ever hit me (even though its been a long while since) and he hugs me. To him screaming is nothing. It scared him because his typically-quiet mom screamed, but that’s about it. He moves on.

I cannot move on. I cannot be the broken door anymore. I need to live life as mom, not a hostage. Or a monster. So a few days later, I sneak into Carl’s room and gently wake him. I tell him to put on his shoes. His grin is instantaneous. “Where are we going? Is it a surprise?” It is.

This day happens to be summer solstice. My son and I creep outside to watch the sunset at 9:30 PM. We look for fireflies in the forest while waiting for the night stars to appear. This moment is just for us, just mom and kid time. Eventually, the longest day of the year is over. The sky is full black and filled with a sense of magic. I snuggle up with my boy and finally we count all the stars.


**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.



24 thoughts on “All the Pretty Stars: My Trauma

  1. It seems like it is a good thing. You showed your own fragility and vulnerability as well as incredible strength and love. It seems that Carl has taken it that way too. One of the problems with therapy, although I think therapy is fantastic, is sometimes we forget we are human. And that humanness is just as valuable and important. Your children will model you, you don’t want them to model perfection, that would be a horrible life. I had a thought that something like this was needed but didn’t say in case I was wrong, so its interesting that you are writing about it only a few weeks later. Or perhaps I am reading my thought into your experience. Who knows? Anyway, I think being human is important. You are an amazing Mum, wise, experienced, loving, kind, mischievous, humble. You do the right thing your children need, even when you think you do the wrong thing. Of all the people in the world I think you should trust, its yourself. And that includes the lady in you who decided that enough was enough. For some people this can be scary, realising that they are the expert and its their instinct they have to listen to. I don’t know how it is for you. Maybe you do already but for that other person in you to come out like that then it seems there is a part that hasn’t been listened to. I’m kind of excited for you. Its like you have the new advisor you wanted and she’s in you. Anyway, as always, apologies if I am off track with this thought. You are incredible though, I hope you know that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is a whole new perspective for me. I didn’t even consider that maybe it was needed. This post is sort of my deepest shame. I appreciate your thoughts and your perspective. As always, you make me feel better! Thank you for this point of view.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Lain says:

    You lost it. You apologized and took full responsibility for your scary actions. You are allowed to be human sometimes. I hope all of it can get better.


  3. Catherine says:

    I’ve been parenting my trauma wired children for 15 years. I’ve lost it a number of times during those years, but it was early on and we’ve moved on. One of the activities my daughter avoids with incredible strength is shopping for clothes. It’s anxiety filled process, but she is almost 22 years old and we are working on “stretching ourselves.” I began the process of preparing her for shopping for a new dress, but she threw up the wall of excuses. I sent a message to facebook friends venting about it. After a before shopping argument, in frustration, I read her the post. She was taken aback. She had no idea how she affected me. Shopping has been easier since that day. It’s not perfect, but it is easier. I think sometimes we need to show or frustration and vulnerability and give them the chance to be the forgiver of OUR anger, just as we are of theirs.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. You are not the social worker. You don’t have the luxury of walking away after an hour’s visit. You are not the therapist. You don’t have the luxury of closing the door after an hour’s session. You don’t have the luxury of clocking off at the end of the day and going home to put your feet up.

    You are the 24/7 social worker/therapist/mom/nurse . . . etc. You get to absorb the flak and the shrapnel and the bullets, knives, and bombs. And you get to remain calm and unflappable no matter what happens. Yeah! Right!

    You are human. You are allowed to make mistakes. One of the first things I learned about caring is that it is almost impossible to remain calm when someone is threatening you with angry words or actions. It’s a fight, flight, or freeze thing, apparently. What is remarkable is that carers like you are so successful at keeping calm when the fists are flying.

    But there comes a time when they need to know and understand who makes the rules. And this was one of those times.

    I’m not in favor of losing tempers. But I’m realistic enough to know that it’s going to happen. However, here’s a thought for you. One of the biggest problems with attachment disorders is the lack of empathy. You know, not understanding how the other person feels. But, then, as carers we usually hide how we feel so that we can maintain a nurturing personality. So when do our children learn what feels are and how we feel? When do they really get an opportunity to understand the frustrations boiling inside us, but hidden from their view? When do they get to feel what we feel? Only on the very rare occasions when we lose it.

    Then, just like Carl, they draw closer. Because they don’t want to lose you. After all, their experience of 24/7 anger tells them that you are safe. And they love you for it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. C says:

    What happened sounds like an exhaustive ordeal for everyone and I am sorry you went through that. A couple take aways are that Carl was able to see you have a melt down and show you the same sympathy, empathy, and forgiveness you have shown him. I have said many time’s it’s ok for kids to see parents mess. I know this was extreme not not optimal, be he showed you he can handle it. As a family you were able to make adjustment that were probably a long time coming. *This my opinion here not a doctor or anything* Maybe take Carl’s handling of this situations a sign that he is ready to take more ownership and responsibility in his life. All the stuff you mentioned you have to look for triggers sensory needs etc. Maybe being able to say yes this happening I need abc. It can do a lot for Carl’s self esteem and confidence as well as preparing him for when he grows up and has to deal with it. Good Luck!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Anka says:

    Been there. And then hated myself for it. It’s so hard. I wish I knew more folks dealing with these issues IRL to commiserate with/sanity check with/ keep me accountable, but I appreciate your online-honesty!


  7. It was so brave of you to write this. I find writing about the times when I completely lose it the most difficult because I feel like I’ve failed on a massive scale, but Aysha put it best. We *are* human. We can be as in touch and present as we’d like, open and giving and compassionate, but sometimes emotions overflow and we are just that…human. I wish you weren’t in this much (physical and emotional) pain and will keep you and your family in my prayers.


  8. Pingback: What Have I Done? | Herding Chickens and Other Adventures in Foster and Adoptive Care

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