What Our 'Complicated Kids' Would Tell Us About Their Past Trauma

by Sarah Burtchell
Originally Published: 
Sarah Burtchell

Mom, today I screamed that I hate you and I never want you to be my family ever again.

I am scared almost all of the time.

I learned, over years of changing houses, that people are impermanent. I learned that caring about anyone is a mistake, because in a moment, you can be ripped away from them, even if you really cared about them. I learned that I better hate you first, I better push you away first, because if I let myself love you, you might get rid of me or I might be pulled away again at any moment by some stranger.

Mom, today I spit and I kicked my teacher at school.

I am anxious and overwhelmed almost all of the time.

School is extremely hard for me. There are unexpected noises and strange smells and varying levels of chaos and people issuing demands. I work hard to keep myself somewhat calm there so I don’t get in trouble all day long, but it’s so shockingly overstimulating to every one of my senses that I feel myself losing all control frequently throughout the day. When the world is just too much, I lash out. It’s like my brain cannot take another second without a physical outlet.

Mom, today I hit the dog with a stick.

I feel powerless almost all of the time.

For years, strangers picked me up in their cars and drove me to new houses, and handed me to more strangers. I never got to say that I didn’t want to go. I never got to say that I was scared of all these new houses, new people, new animals, new noises, new foods, new smells. I have known for years that I have no control, no power at all — that everyone controls me. It gives me some power back to dominate this animal, even just for a moment, even though I actually really like this animal when I am not feeling out of control.

Mom, today I had a complete meltdown in the car with my adoptive brother and two of his friends. I kicked seats and swore and said I hated all of you.

I feel unimportant and unheard almost all of the time, and cars, especially with other kids in them, are still frightening to me.

I spent years in the cars of social workers with other children getting transferred from appointment to appointment and from supervised visit to supervised visit and from one impermanent house to the next. Nothing that I felt, thought, or said mattered. I learned that traveling has unpredictable results and is, consequently, terrifying. Cars are anxiety producing. Other kids are anxiety producing. Putting them together panics me.

Mom, today I wrote on the kitchen floor with a marker, and I cut my pants with scissors at school, and I pulled apart a nightlight and a fan after you put me to bed.

I feel angry almost all of the time.

There are brief moments when what I feel could be described as almost calm, but they are few and brief. The chaos I spent months and months and months surviving has done damage to my nervous system that cannot be eliminated. I can take these pills, and I do, all five different prescriptions at various points over the last 1.5 years, and all the grownups can debate whether they help or not, and I can sit in therapy weekly, and I do, but what I endured is never going away, and I fight every day to do the right thing. I cannot tell you why I sometimes succumb to the rage inside of me and destroy things I really do want, or like. It’s beyond my ability to understand, and often feels beyond my ability to control, medicated or not.

Mom, I don’t have any actual friends.

I am still lonely in many ways almost all of the time.

I am envious of other kids. I see them with their easy mannerisms, with their trusting faces, with their lack of agitation to people getting close to them, bumping into them. I see them making sense of what other kids are joking about. I watch them know how to interact so other kids like them. I cannot understand them. I wish I could feel how they feel. I wish being comfortable and relaxed were possible for me. I wish I understood peer relationships like they seem to so inherently. All of my first relationships were based on the simple and heartbreaking fact that I was nobody’s family, and I wasn’t shown how to relate in that loving, caring, consistent manner that babies should somehow be guaranteed, but sadly, are not.

Some people think that because I cannot remember some, or maybe any, of what happened to me as a baby, as a toddler, as a preschool kid, that it doesn’t affect me.

They couldn’t be more incorrect.

My brain development was altered when no one consistently held me when I was upset, comforted me when I was sad, let me have dinner when I was hungry, picked me up when I fell, left a door open when I was lonely, switched a light on when I was scared of the darkness around me.

My neurology was changed because stress and anxiety were my primary emotions for years of my young life.

It doesn’t matter that I can’t express it.

It happened.

And now I have to try to recover.

It’s going to be incredibly, stunningly difficult.

I need every bit of help you can give me.

With hope for us both,

Your complicated kid

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