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When Impulsivity Is a Fear-based Trauma Response

I grew up with a single mother on welfare

By Melissa SteussyPublished 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 6 min read
Authors Photo taken by Samantha Rose

When I was 6 she went through job training through the state and became employed, working a near minimum wage job and earning a paycheck for the first time since my birth. My whole life I knew we had less than. I knew it from the low-income apartments with cockroaches and I knew it by the clunky cars we drove. I knew it by the fighting, violence, and police being called on us.

I swore from a young age that my life would be different. I knew I wouldn’t hang out with sleazy guys, drink, and use drugs, or make poor life choices and that I would know better than my mother.

Until I was 12 and was offered my first drink of alcohol and had no inhibition. Until I and my friends were drinking into oblivion, trying drugs, and having sex with no reservation. I had written in my diary just a few weeks earlier that I would never be like my mom. I would never drink or do drugs or be with yucky men that only knew how to pick fights and get wasted.

Where was my resolve to say no? Where were my standards?

To be honest, I think I would have done anything to escape from the life I was living. I had been tormented by men in my home and had a father in prison. There was drinking, smoking, and parties and I was the nuisance of a child that many times wondered why she was even born.

I knew my father had given my mother money for an abortion. That made me feel unwanted. I knew my mother seemed unfit, but what was the alternative?

When I got attention from boys at a young age and drinking, smoking and drugs were offered I had no defense. It came naturally. I had been witnessing this my whole existence.

“If you can’t beat them join them.”

I wished every year in junior high that I could go shopping for school clothes with a larger budget, but eventually took the bull by the horns and started babysitting. When I couldn’t make enough, I started shoplifting.

I wanted so badly to look like everyone else.

The problem was my insides would never measure up to your outsides. The other kids had something I would never have and that was feeling loved in a family unit.

My vow to not drink or drug fell short. My vow to not be around abusive men fell short. But God damn it, I will have what I want and not settle for less whatever means necessary.

So at 18 that meant credit cards and payday loans. It meant for all the years I had laid in bed crying before school because I didn’t have anything to wear or didn’t want to wear the same thing again, I would have enough. I would make sure I had the outfits and clothes to wear to make me look like I fit. I would become obsessed compulsively with buying clothes and shoes. I would go to any length to feel enough.

Getting a compliment on my outfit throughout my life began my lifelong desire to reach that level of enoughness. If you said you like my shirt or that I looked cute, I could feel worthy, enough, and valued. My worth has been seen. Not my intrinsic worth, not a worth from the inside out, but an outer worth. It tells me I fit the mold. I can blend in. I have some worth and value. You like me. You like my shirt, so you must like me.

When we couldn’t afford braces for my teeth I opened up paper clips and made my own. I pushed hard on my unruly teeth to try to move them. When I was 18 I was able to pay for it myself and financed them. I sat in the intake room and cried as my teeth had been a huge reason for me never to smile.

Not being able to afford things growing up and living in a dark toxic environment made me want more. It pushed me to try to do better, but as I said above I also easily fell into what I knew and what was comfortable.

It has been two steps forward one step back rotation since I was younger. I want to excel and do better, but I also have these fear-based trauma responses that pull me backward.

It’s only been in the last few years that I can recognize this for what it is and acknowledge it.

After 23 years of sobriety and my parents being long since gone I still find myself with toxic traits and that feeling of, “I want what I want and I will get it in whichever way I have to.”

I get tunnel vision and have a hard time seeing the big picture. I feel like that small child being told she can’t get what she needs. I get vindictive and dig in my heels. I cry and feel small. I turn into a bull and charge forward wiping out anyone in my path. I can’t listen and I will fight to the death. I get sneaky and will find any creative means necessary to get “my needs” met.

Over the years I can see where my wants and desires outweighed my needs and responsibilities. I can see how I endangered my family’s finances to take a trip or buy those shoes. I feel like I will never get out of the cycle of “not enough.” Not enough money, not enough internally, and not enough resources. Always falling short. Everyone has it going on and I am somewhere behind trying to keep up.

I know this inner yearning to have more goes deeper than material possessions. I know material things give me a sense that I am okay. I have what I need and I am safe, like a warm security blanket or hug, but how can I find my worth outside of clothes and items?

How can I become a person that weighs all of the options, learns to see the big picture, isn’t afraid to look at the future, and stops going “full boar” ignoring what others think?

When will I stop being afraid to talk about money and finances? When will I start feeling and owning my worth and value?

Children that don’t grow up in loving or nurturing home environments come out fighting. They fight for their worth, fight to be enough, and fight to fit in.

There is a lack of equity when kids grow up in poverty and I am telling you from a 45-year-old perspective it is hard to ever regain that equity.

I was born with not enough and I still feel that lack even though at times I have more than enough.

Is it a faith over fear issue? Is it a security instinct gone awry?

I want to get to the root of this issue to heal it.

I am done trying to overcompensate for my inequities.

I am done trying to prove to the outside world that I am enough.

I am ready to feel enough, just as I am.

**Previously published on Medium in Invisible Illness.


About the Creator

Melissa Steussy

Author of Let Your Privates Breathe-Breaking the Cycle of Addiction and Family Dysfunction. Available at The Black Hat Press:

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