Due to some persistent and passionate efforts by local advocates, some of whom are childhood trauma survivors and all of whom have been affected by the childhood trauma of others, June has been declared “Childhood Trauma Awareness Month” in the City of Cincinnati. This historic event occured by UNANIMOUS VOTE to pass the resolution brought forth by Vice Mayor Jan-Michelle Kearney at the City Council meeting on June 2, 2022. I couldn’t be happier to be a part of this effort. As we move into some community meetings to educate the community on childhood trauma and gain further support for this movement, I reached out to a friend and childhood trauma survivor, Jeff Ignatowski, to see if he would tell a bit of his story and how it has influenced his life. I met Jeff a little over a decade ago when he was working for the Dept. of Juvenile Justice, helping troubled teens who were much like he was at that age. Here is Jeff’s story of going from victim to victor:
“My trauma started from the time I was born, beginning even before I was a year old. I was a colicy baby and often cried a lot. My mother found that she couldn’t comfort me so she would get frustrated and yell at me. Then my father would have to come in and rock me to sleep. I was around 2 or 3 years old the first time my mother tried to kill me. I didn’t want to get washed up so she smacked me in the face, and as my nose was bleeding, she stuck my face under the running bathtub faucet trying to drown me. At this point, my older sister came in and stopped my mom and pulled her off of me.
These events happened so often in my early childhood that by the time I was 9 or 10 years old, I had my bedroom booby trapped with knives because I was afraid my mother was coming to kill me in the middle of the night. By the time I was 12 years old, the physical abuse had largely stopped, but the mental abuse continued until I left home at 17 to go to college. While I was facing all the abuse at home, I started trying to find ways to escape my home life. By the time I was 7 or 8 years old, I was running the streets and getting involved with gangs and drug dealers. This brought on a whole other level of trauma and early formation of my view on the world. In 2015, my hometown was named Murdertown USA . It was always a tough place to grow up and I was right in the heart of it.
I always marvel at the fact that I’m now 41 years old and no one, including myself, believed that I would even make it to 18. In those years, I have learned so many things. I have struggled and had to deal with the effects that such trauma can have on our mind, spirit, and relationships. It has definitely not been easy, but you can come out well adjusted on the other side. We have to realize is that while trauma may have happened to us, it doesn’t make us who we are. Too often we build our identity from our trauma which constantly reinforces the damage that this trauma has had on us. We then continue to re-experience the trauma without ever really dealing with the trauma itself. Our association with the trauma continues to be negative and that association drives it deeper into our psyche and then reaches out into all aspects of our lives. This is why a solitary event can continue to haunt us our entire lives, break down our self esteem, drive us into depression and anxiety, as well as destroy our relationships with others.
While we cannot change the fact that our trauma happened, we can change our associations with the trauma. I really struggled most of my life, and sometimes still do, with feeling like “I am not enough” or “I deserve to be punished”. I was not enough to get love from either my mother or father. I was not enough to keep a good relationship. I was not good enough in any of the sports I played in. I deserved to be left. Everything is my fault. This all stems from my childhood trauma.
Now there are many modalities that help people reshape their thinking. Meditation and positive self talk help lots of people, but has never been something that has helped me. I needed to go deeper than reciting a phrase over and over again. I also can’t sit still long enough to quiet my mind. I had to completely change the association from victim to victor. What I had to realize is that I am fortunate to have had to struggle through my trauma. I have been counted strong enough to withstand it and thrive from it. I would never wish it on someone else, however I have the incredible opportunity to share my experiences with others and help them to find healing from their trauma.
To change that association, you have to make a decision. You must decide to stop allowing life to happen to you and decide to create the path that you want. We all will stay stuck in our trauma if we continue to say “poor me”. The satisfaction that we receive from that sympathy will keep us imprisoned. So decide you want something different and realize that your trauma could be the biggest opportunity that you have to effect the world around you. After you decide, you have to use that trauma to fuel the positive things in your life. No longer is that trauma the worst thing that ever happened to you, it is the secret to the success that you are finding now. Yes my mother tried to kill me, several times, but that resiliency that kept me alive is what continues to drive me in business to realize all the dreams that I have. I also know that nothing can be worse than what I already have gone through, so now everything seems easy.
Here’s the real shocker, I now have a really good relationship with both of my parents. In my realization, I had to come to terms with the fact that the initial trauma was not my fault. I also had to take a hard look at my mother and realize that her own mental illness played a large role in her behavior. The key in changing my association was forgiving her for the past and admitting my part in the abuse as I got older. At that point, it doesn’t matter if she is willing or capable to acknowledge her part. I know that my mind and spirit are clear. I can finally move on to a healthier more vibrant life.”
Thank you, Jeff, for sharing your story and your triumph over trauma. It is beautiful souls like you who use their painful experiences to help others that make this world more bearable for many. I am fortunate to have you as a colleague turned friend for so many years.
Wishing all of you readers a day filled with HOPE,
Melissa Adamchik, MA, LPP
Executive Director, Tristate Trauma Network