Arrested Development

Until recently, these two words strung together only brought up images of the Bluths, bananas, and bad real estate deals.

Lately, though, these two words are bouncing around my brain without attachment to the hilarious sitcom with that title.

My guess is my childlike behavior during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays is what’s lighting those words up in neon colors in my head. The holidays always set me on a course toward childhood memories that remind me it wasn’t all that bad.

Abuse victims all respond differently to trauma. Everyone who experiences some level of arrested development comes out of it with varying perspectives. I know one woman close to my heart who lacked the love she needed from her father. Her entire life she seemed to hold on to a childlike innocence of the world, while working overtime to make sure other people weren’t upset with her. She has always seemed like a child wanting approval. Don’t get me wrong, she is a survivor and did a lot on her own. However, she has never let go of that desire to be loved by all to fill up the void left by one.

My story is so different from hers. Yet, I can relate to that desire to capture the best parts of childhood. The freedoms and ignorance of some realities are so appealing.

I definitely lived in two worlds growing up. Sometimes it stops me when I think how I, as a 4-year-old girl, was able to deal with the trauma of being sexually abused for the first time, and go home with my mom… saying nothing. The fear instilled in me by my attacker was strong enough to keep my mouth shut for 5 more years.

For 5 years, I got in the car with my mom, rode with her to the house where I knew I would be touched if I didn’t find a good hiding place, and I didn’t say a word about it. Then, when my mom came to pick me up, every time either I or that man’s adopted daughter had endured more abuse… and I kept it locked inside.

When I got home, I rode bikes with Jenny, Denise, and Rachel. We drew chalk art, splashed in puddles, and explored the woods by our trailer park. We laughed, got our clothes dirty, and if any of us had money, we would go to the park’s center to buy sodas and candy.

On most Sundays, I went to my grandparents’ house. I watched the Chicago Cubs on TV with Grandpa and went to art festivals with Grandma where we always ended up with ice cream.

My best childhood memories, though, were centered around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Some of you may be able to relate.

Listen, we had a person who drank too much. My mom’s siblings spent most of the time teasing or fighting. Grandma was pretty strict about elbows, manners and the pace at which you ate.

However, I was not ever abused in that house.

As I grew, and more abuse came, that house, my grandparents’ house, remained a safe haven. I was loved there. I was protected.

Thanksgiving was a day when football was on too loud in the family room, Grandma was cooking a feast, and my uncle was teaching me to sneak more sage into Grandma’s stuffing when she wasn’t looking.

Christmas, well, I will tear up just typing about it. Christmas Eve is my birthday, and for a long time, my family would tell me they came home just for my day. They celebrated me with spaghetti, cake, and gifts. We had so many traditions. They even had an entire skit set up to trick me into believing I heard (and even one time SAW) Santa.

All of it was magical. And, I was safe.

Then, most of the days of the year, I was at a house full of abuse. I was lucky compared to the kids that lived there, because I could escape back to places where I was not touched.

So, flash forward 40 years, and you can find me holding on to the good stuff…. the stuff that helped me survive.

One year, my husband bought me a dancing Snoopy. I was in my 40s, wondering, “Why do I love this so much? I really shouldn’t.”

I don’t think I fully recognized at the time, but I can see now it brought out the happy parts of my childhood. I often find myself clinging to those times.

For survivors of childhood trauma, I believe those happy moments… the ones removed from darker realities… are what help us survive. Some are small. In fact, in my own life, most of those happy life-preservers are small. They didn’t need to be big.

I believe survivors often just need a little bit to show us we can still have hope. If the outcome of arrested development gives us the ability to see hope in a dancing Snoopy, then let Snoopy dance.

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