How I Used My Story Of Childhood Trauma To Help And Inspire Other Survivors

This story is one of the biggest reasons I write, and why I find joy in helping others heal. I shared this written story for the first time in November 2016, right after I shared it as a keynote speaker saying the words in public for the first time ever. I offer it to you with grace, and I hope you find strength and inspiration while reading it.
Sergey Zolkin
Sergey Zolkin

My journey is Heartbreak. Childhood Trauma. Iraq’s Warzone. Helplessness. Stigma. My journey is Art. Cycling. Tattoos. Non-Profit Outreach. Survival.

My name is Monica Davis, and my journey now is being a possibilitarian, because the vibrations you create will be returned as an even greater echo. As an empath I vicariously feel the pain of others, so let’s help each other grow, practice reckless optimism and create our own frequency so that others who devour similar empathetic purpose can dial in.

From the age of three until I was in my early twenties, my biological father abused me, physically, verbally, emotionally, and psychologically, he did not respect my boundaries, made me a prisoner of shame, he crippled my self-worth and terrorized my free spirit. I still have flashbacks and nightmares.

When I can remember, they are usually me in a dark room, sitting in a shadowed silhouette of a chair, watching a television screen with photos from my life streaming side-to- side like memories once hidden – and often those photos are what sets my mid-sleep panic into a spiral, violently waking me to the sound of my own cries for help and whimpering.

Remembering abuse and terror can be blinding, but writing this story, knowing it will be read by so many, I see validation and why I have chosen to share my journey for the first time in a very public way – to impact the lives of those who suffer from abuse, trauma, grief, mental illness – and the pain and stigma that is attached to our daily battle. I am no longer going to be delicate or generic with my story, I am ready to be vulnerable in front of all of you. Here are a handful of memories that molded my child mind:

He showed up at my day care and took me against an order not to, and went on the run.

He masturbated loudly in his small apartment while I fake-slept in the next room.

I was a passenger countless times as he drove drunk or blacked-out.

He would stalk me, follow us, and show up at our home standing in the yard staring into our windows.

When I answered the phone, it was his heavy breathing on the other end or his raged-out voicemails calling me profanities. He often warned that we should not go out at night because he would be hiding in the bushes with a knife.

He barged into our home and began throwing vinyl 45’s at our faces as if they were weapons.

He physically and sexually abused my mother, and threatened her life in front me several times. He locked himself in the bathroom with a butcher knife threatening suicide.

He threatened me with a knife and a hammer. I tried to calm my brothers down by telling them “Don’t worry, I have been through this before.” Me in a corner of our family room countless times afraid he was going to come back with a gun. When he said “I am not your father, I killed him a long time ago”.

He destroyed my version of my future self – and my life choices stemmed from that abuse. I relive it and wonder why I kept going back, then I realized that he was the extreme version of a narcissist who controlled and manipulated me. He became my brutal truth and nightmare I would blame for many of my behaviors, my addictions, my fears, and ultimately my mental health crises.

I wanted so badly to be detached from him, to not share his genetic code, to be free from the guilt and shame he demanded of me. I never called him Dad, or by his name, I began calling him Sperm Donor – because that is truly the only role that meant anything.

At the age of 24, I cut all ties with him, my two half-brothers, my grandparents, and everyone who refused to acknowledge the abuse – for me there was no other way. I also changed my last name to that of my remarkable step-father – he is my father, my one and only since I was four years old – My mother and father are where I get my grit and fortitude from, they are my beacon of hope examples of what I now demand from all humans that want to spend time in my heart.

The damage was done to my psyche however, and as I grew older I unconsciously and repeatedly sought out partners who shared those same destructive qualities; partners who also physically and emotionally abused me, sexually and financially broke me. I developed a thick-skin which allowed me to ‘endure’ abuse that would follow me for over two decades.

In my late 20’s I knew I had to do something drastic to awake my spirit, and I did just that. In 2009, after one of my many night terrors and feeling lost both personally and professionally, I took a job in Iraq to work in support of our U.S. Military. Talk about shaking things up, right?

From start to finish, my oversees adventures lasted 19 months. Many times, the Middle East was frightening, terrifying actually – but it was the more frequent quiet times that brought to the surface what I had unconsciously forced my mind to forget. Me with my thoughts in a quiet warzone – it awoke demons within that forced me to remember what my childhood trauma was, and it kept those demons constant in my mind. The warzone opened my own internal battle with mental illness.

I thought about killing myself. My chosen way – a solo party night intentionally overdosing on illicit drugs. I would have manic episodes, panic attacks that left me in hysterics, they happened so frequently I would sometimes blackout on the highway while driving. I could not get out bed, I couldn’t eat, I could not brush my teeth or answer my phone.

To make the weight even heavier, I wasn’t able to make enough money working overseas to put a dent in my massive amount of student loans – which I partly blame sperm donor for because the multiple jobs I had did not understand or want to understand why I was unexpectedly having panic and anxiety attacks at work, or in the throes of depression and flashbacks – so to pay bills and pay for college on my own, I took out private student loans which, for the next 30 years, have monthly payments almost matching my rent. I was embarrassed, I was ashamed, and I was mortified that I wasn’t strong enough to conquer being a ‘normal’ contributing member of society, or that those I worked for couldn’t see how impenetrable my mental illnesses were, or how much I needed support in my professional world also.

You see, in these silent ways, the abuse has prevented me from experiencing life the way I had envisioned – I am still a prisoner in that sense.

I signed the dotted line for my student loans, I take this responsibility seriously – but now that I am healthy enough and strong enough, and capable enough – and by the way one of the hardest working women I know – I feel trapped, and I burdened my future self when I was so desperate to simply live a life like most of my friends – and although I can now look back at these mistakes knowing why I made them – I also see the residual effects of abuse and mental illness, how they reach far beyond just how we feel, but impact our decision making and judgement calls. They don’t allow us to see the future impact on our own lives, they isolate and compartmentalize consequences, and for me these decisions are life-long financial punishments that have become my only regret.  

When I began my current job with the Army, they placed me in Kansas, half-way across the country from my hometown, and six months later I had to be transferred to a base closer to my family because I required an emotional hardship relocation. Although I had finally found emotional support in a career path I am proud of – I still felt so alone and so afraid.

I have trouble talking about Iraq, but you can imagine a small-town girl wanting to shake things up, not having any military experience prior to, having never been overseas before, seeing violence, weapons and explosions, and people being killed – it only added to the mind- fuck I was in once I returned home. You see, that’s the thing about being over there – the addiction to adrenalin and the absolute love you have for the humans you work with. For those of you who know what I mean, it is something that alters you, and ultimately makes you part of a worldwide family.

When I came home from Iraq – I had a severe blackout mental breakdown in front of my Father, and as I placed both my hands on his face, I told him that sperm donor had raped me when I was young. Many details still escape me, but it was a feeling I had with blurry intense flashbacks. The breakdown, and the visualization of sexual assualt happened only months after I returned home in 2011.

Now, six years later my flashbacks and nightmares still occur, every so often, whether in my sleep or wide awake – but almost always when I have been triggered. What continues to wake me up is that of the incubus laying his claim on a sleeping woman, that of me cowering in a corner as a child having a manic episode of fear, or the dark shape of his body standing underneath a street light in the rain with a butcher knife looking into our home.

There are other images I remember also, but these are the recurring. No matter what – my childhood itself was molested, battered, and altered in such an unforgiving way, and when you also suffer from dissociative amnesia, traumas can seem farfetched from reality, so I am fluttering back and forth, hanging out with these demons again, coming to terms the best I can – no matter how long it takes me.

Painting saved my life. I had never painted before, and when I came home from Iraq – I knew I needed an alternative approach to healing. I began painting a few months after I got back and created my Warzone Purging collection. Art saved my life, and it continues to do so by giving me the opportunity to purge my continuing battle with mental illness. My thoughts in the quiet warzone were not forgotten, and in 2014 I began to journal, I felt an escape, a way to connect with my thoughts directly. It was the start of my #GrowthGameDiary. I began sharing quotes I created on social media, sayings that lifted my spirit, and short blog posts that inevitably led to my passion to go even deeper, to be as raw as I could.

This process took almost three years, and now I have told my trauma story in public for the first time, and have begun sharing my writings online. Iraq also led to my passion of working with our Military in the States, currently on year six as a Federal Army Civilian Master Resilience Trainer and Program Analyst in Virginia – and as fate would have it – this new path led to my passion as a resilience and mental health advocate, and working as an Outreach Director for multiple non-profits like Project Rebirth,  and their impactful partner-organizations, which I am deeply embedded.

I am passionate about my growth game and impacting anyone who needs a beacon of hope.

I am passionate about loving the crap out of humans who inspire others by being inspired by others. I am passionate about the last six years working for the U.S. Army, creating healing and purging art that ultimately gives the viewer an idea of what creative therapy looks like, cycling as a form of mental purging, adventure therapy and fitness, my tattoos that remind me to own my authentic identity and tell a story without having to say a single word – and writing which allows my mind to split open and revisit words once written to see my endless growth pilgrimage. I am also committed to my non-profit work and am mind blown daily by the incredible impact they have on our communities.

What I am most passionate about in my life are my modern hippie values that center and refocus my growth game – at the top of my list are benevolence and love – I am passionate about feeling it, giving it, and knowing now that I deserve it. I believe that I was meant to have a traumatic journey, to struggle through pain, grief, and mental illness – and that is why I use my experiences to affect change, and to do my part.

I was never offered a choice, none of us are – so even though I still struggle, and as my Father says, am still painting my life – my heart is full, and I find joy in the colors I am choosing. My Father – FYI – is an amazing writer and poet – he has shown me ways to share my heart and my truth through words – this gift he has given me has been one of the reasons I am able cope, to share, to feel, and to find my renewed sense of self over and over again.

It has taken me over twenty years to fully come out of my shattered shell, and I am ready to expose my truth that once categorized me as a victim, to what I am determined to remain today – a Growth Game Warrior. I hope you see that people like me are living proof that sharing your story with others lifts burdens on both sides.

Why is mental illness important to me? It is the pivotal hush-hush of our generation, one that’s been stigmatized far too long. People are killing themselves because of it, by it, and for it. Mental illness altered my life path, significantly. I battle and live with depression, post- traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic disorder, and anxiety every single day – and I am merely one person out of millions who are like me. A pandemic. We need to work together, share our stories, and with fury – fight for those who have no voice or are too afraid to ask for help. Mental illness affects all humans, it is not racially, politically, or religiously charged, it is not gender biased, it is not rich or poor, and does not fall into any polarizing category except the subtle and many times overt branding known as stigma. Those who feel mental illness is not actually an illness need to be educated – and that is what people like me are here to do – put a face and journey to what so many shame us for.

My journey is sacred, it has molded my emotions, my perceptions, my coping mechanisms, and ultimately my ability to grow. My journey is raw and naked truth, about trauma, abuse, pain, terror, war, the effects of all that – about love, healing, and self-prospective. There is no surprise that I, like many of you, am a sensitive human – we are savagely vulnerable collages of emotion – and I like it that way.

I am using this very public platform to share my journey for the first time because of you, the reader, the person who may be experiencing something similar, the person who is in need of finding their footing, or the person who has been waiting to tell their story for the first time – all of you, who I consider Growth Game changers – real-life humans who will fulfill your destiny by helping others achieve theirs – one of survival, one of gusto and one filled to the moon and back with love, courage, and faith in knowing that stigma does not exist when mental wellness is encouraged instead of judged.

You are an ambassador of hope. And I thank you from the bottom of my small-town heart. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

My name is Monica Davis. I am a resilience and mental health advocate, an artist, a writer, and possibilitarian.

Keep up with Monica on Instagram and Website

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