As 2016 came to an end, I was deep into the monotonous routine of day-to-day life. If anyone asked how I was doing, I would have politely told them “fine” because I truly thought that I was. I mean, looking back now, there were signs. There were definitely signs. I was in the thick of it though so I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.
January rolled around, I turned 33 and was suddenly very aware of the numbness that had enveloped my whole being. With an awareness of the numb, came an awareness of the cause of it. An almost intolerable misery that had taken over. I was NOT happy and I couldn’t even really say why.
February. This is when things got scary. I felt very strongly that I. WANTED. TO. DIE. Off myself. I’m talking about suicide. Specifically, I wanted to drown. So out of character for me. 1) I know how to swim and 2) no matter how bad things have gotten I never had suicidal thoughts like that. Suddenly and out of nowhere they came with such frequency and persistence. Sweet death how much longer will you evade me? Death. Glorious darkness. You are the one guarantee. I can be positive you will not stand me up. You’re already on your way…
The nightmares started in February too. In one I was falling but there was no ground. Just a perpetual drop without a landing. The other, I was attending my little boy’s funeral. That has always been a giant fear of mine… that I would lose my child. I mean, I’ve always been ridiculously afraid of it. I attributed that to my experience growing up. I watched a lot of my friend’s moms in that position – burying their child. I always felt their pain more acutely than I did my own but I never really understood why.. The truth of that “why” wouldn’t come until later.
March. I was looking for something but I wasn’t sure what exactly. I was finally learning to trust myself. I became aware of patterns in my family that I had been oblivious to. I finally began to set some boundaries. I was making some progress. One day I was watching YouTube videos on co-dependent cycles and “randomly” came across a video about trauma being passed from parents to children via DNA. Basically, every trauma our ancestors experienced but never reconciled, stored in their body in raw form. Epigenetic research has confirmed that unresolved trauma is passed down ancestral lines. So the issues that plague most of us may not even be our issues. They may have started with parents, grandparents, great grandparents. It is called Intergenerational trauma..
When I heard that alarms sounded. I felt a wave of warmth wash over me as well as a small vibration that radiated throughout my entire body the way it always does when I become aware of a profound truth. I was overwhelmed so I mostly kept to myself for the next 2-3 weeks. I ordered the book “It Didn’t Start With You” and learned that I inherited a core language of fear. There are so many issues in my family history. In no particular order: addiction, anxiety, depression, sexual abuse, financial scarcity. And those were just the ones I was aware of at that time.
In this book, the author, Mark Wolynn (Click HERE to follow Mark on twitter) goes into depth about how ancestral trauma affects us: “There is a reliving of trauma in the body as though there is an ancestral alarm clock.” What that means is when we reach the same age that our ancestors were when they experienced the initial trauma, we will begin to experience the emotions of it as if that trauma were playing out all over again for us personally. Sounds crazy doesn’t it? I assure you it is very real.
April. I began having discussions with my Mom about inherited family trauma and she opened up about our family’s past. When my great-grandmother, Lillie Cantrell was my exact age, she standing on the edge of a cliff about to jump to her death. As my mom told the story, I actually saw the scene playing out as if I had been there and it belonged to me in the form of a memory. I can see her dress blowing in the wind and the tears streaming down her face as she looks at her husband, Frank and tells him she can’t bear to go on living. I can feel her desperation. Her utter devastation.
In 2013 I was 29 years old and due to give birth on the 10th of October. My pregnancy was not unpleasant but I worried for my son. I feared he wouldn’t live long. I even put off the purchase of baby items until the week before he was born because I truly believed he wouldn’t make it. I tried to tell myself I was being ridiculous… he did make it. He’s a thriving 3 year old today but as it turned out, my fear was completely justified. Also, it wasn’t mine. It belonged to my Great Grandmother, Lillie.
On April 24, 1934 when Lillie was 29 years old she gave birth to a son, Alvin Revere. Just shy of 1 month later, Baby Alvin unexpectedly passed away. Lillie never got over losing her son. In fact, it was his death along with the rumors going around town about Lillie’s husband having an affair that drove her to the edge of the cliff that day. She didn’t jump of course. If she had, I never would have known her.
I’m so aware of the experience Lillie had when her baby died and I have no logical explanation for how I’m aware of this. I can see all of Lillie’s surviving children. They are sitting on the porch of their tiny little house in silence. Lillie can be heard from inside the house pleading with God in between sobs. I know it as if I lived it all even though I wasn’t born until many years later.
I can remember taking trips to that same house as a little girl. Lillie was in a hospital bed at that point and it was in the living room because the bedrooms were too small to hold it. I remember being in the den and falling asleep in my mom’s lap as she and my grandmother, Elaine (Lillie’s daughter) talked into the wee hours of morning.
That tiny little house stills stands today but not for long. Just this week the fire department informed my mom that they would soon be burning it to the ground. How ’bout that timing? I’ll head to Alabama soon for one last look at Lillie’s home. So much pain and misery experienced inside it. Soon it will be reduced to ash but at least the secrets made it out alive.
I hope Lillie can rest now that her pain is known. As for me, my work has just begun.