005A. Overcoming Trauma: Healing From Within

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Key Quote

“The most profound lessons I’ve learned from my personal journey of trauma and survival are encapsulated in three key concepts: resilience, self-understanding, and acceptance.” – Wesley Jackson

Episode Summary

Join Wesley Jackson as he delves deeply into his own personal narrative, a tale carved out by the relentless chisel of trauma, but shaped by an indomitable spirit of survival and resilience. His story, laden with labels and challenges, reveals a dark side to his journey and the struggles he faced amidst a school system ill-equipped to embrace diversity.

Wesley explores the realm of emotional suppression, which he was thrust into at a young age due to a constant dread of reprisal from his parents. He walks us through how this fear led to the creation of maladaptive coping mechanisms, resulting in addictive behavior patterns that served as his shield against the storm of emotions he dared not face.

Yet, amidst the turmoil, Wesley found a beacon of hope and healing. He found solace in the form of talk therapy and experienced a resurgence of purpose within him through the student organization he passionately nurtured at his university. Through the process of uncovering his addictive behaviors, Wesley initiated the arduous task of dismantling them, setting off on a journey towards self-acceptance, embracing his flaws, and celebrating his uniqueness.

As you join Wesley on this raw and enlightening journey, he distills three potent lessons from his experiences: the power of resilience, the beauty of self-understanding, and the liberation found in acceptance.

Listen in as a survivor of humanity shares his powerful story.

Full Transcript

[00:00:00] Wesley Jackson: Picture this, you’re a child no older than the age of five or six. Your father has you bent over his knee with your pants pulled down to expose your bare ass, lecturing you on something that you did wrong. Your mother stands by watching in silent endorsement. You attempt to bargain with him anything to prevent what will happen next.

Then comes the pain. You scream, but it doesn’t stop. One, two, three, more if needed. You’re wailing now, begging for it to stop. Sometimes the hand, sometimes the belt, but it all feels the same in the end. Your initial fright at all of this recoils into something much more solemn, as you disassociate from the entire experience and the many that come after in order to protect your mind. How would you feel in this situation? But, better yet, how would you resolve this?

In today’s self-help podcast episode, I detail the traumatic events throughout my life that all started during my formative years before the age of seven and extending well into my late twenties. I then talk about how this story opened up a larger journey into mindshifts and the impact that this had on my life. Lastly, I reflect on why this story is a valuable lesson on overcoming trauma and how large of a role it can play in our lives.

Welcome to Surviving Humanity: A Self-Help Podcast, where we shift your perspective to help you overcome the obstacles in your life.

We are Wesley Jackson and Andrew Gilley, and we hope to foster a sense of connection and community over our common struggles while providing you with the tools to overcome them.

As always, our FacebookSubreddit, and Twitter are the best places to go for community, connection, and support. Links to these are in the show notes.

Let’s get started.

This is a story that I’ve touched on before within this podcast, but only vaguely and briefly. My experience with trauma, as well as Andrew’s, serves as the foundation and impetus behind Surviving Humanity’s mission and vision.

Buckle up, because I’m going to do my best to cover nearly three decades of my life in the span of this episode, but I hope you stick with me because the end result I feel will be worth it.

So, the main characters of my story are each of my four immediate family members. However, as I alluded to in the intro, this particular cycle of abuse extends much further into the past known as generational trauma. Please note from here on out that I am only remarking upon my own personal experiences within these events, as well as my thoughts and feelings towards them. So, within my family, you have my dad, my mom, myself, the oldest, my brother who is just 14 months younger than me, and then my sister, who is three years younger than me.

For reference, at the time of this episode, I am 31. As you can see, I became an older brother at the tender age of just over one year old, which has profoundly affected my sense of responsibility for others. This notion was heavily reinforced by both of my parents as I was growing up, and then further cemented later on in my life as I felt compelled to step in as some sort of pseudo dad leading up to and after my parents’ separation in the fall of 2010.

As I mentioned in the intro of this episode, much of my early life was shaped by the fear of punishment. Whether it be physical, mental, or emotional at the hands of my father. In response to this fear, I did my best to identify the rules, both spoken and unspoken in order to avoid conflict at all costs.

This meant sensing and piecing together the patterns of behavior in both of my parents so that I could be more aware of their moods, and thus better able to modulate my own behavior accordingly, so as to trigger them as little as possible. Unfortunately, I like anybody else, let alone a child, am not perfect, and thus I was unable to entirely avoid this punishment.

What I failed to realize back then was that I would be continually punished, not so much for what I do, but for who I am. What this all amounted to was an inability to express myself out of an intense fear of rejection, and it manifested in the form of crippling shyness, starting as early as three years old and continuing into my early twenties. While I eventually managed to effectively start evading the physical punishment by shutting up and doing well in school, the verbal abuse was as unavoidable as it was unrelenting.

My younger brother, unfortunately, was not so lucky. As once I had been “broken in”, as I like to call it, the attention quickly shifted towards him. But to this day, I still have to actively stop myself from referring to myself as dumb or stupid, whether it be aloud or in my head. And to this day, I am still battling the physical effects of Hourglass Syndrome as a result of being told to suck in my stomach so as not to look fat.

To this day, I still struggle to allow myself the time, space, needs and boundaries to fully enjoy life. But to this day, I have never stopped trying.

So, even at the age of four, adults started trying to brand me negatively by suggesting unhelpful terms such as Oppositional Defiance Disorder, or ODD, for short. This began in response to my refusal to partake in the nap time that everyone else was. Instead, I wanted to read. Yes, that’s right, while everyone else was napping at the age of four, I was reading. This began actually during my first year of preschool at the age of three.

What my second preschool teacher failed to realize is that I am hyperlexic. However, my hyperlexia was just the tip of the iceberg, for this is in fact just one facet of my particular flavor of autism, which in turn is just one facet of my twice-exceptionalism. So, this misunderstanding of me was the reason why I was prevented by my third grade teacher later on from joining the Gifted and Talented Education Program, or GATE, for short. Her reasoning? I was struggling with long division.

This was despite reading several grades above my reading level and excelling in all other subjects in school. The underlying factor here was in fact, my dyscalculia. Think of it like dyslexia for math or numbers. And despite being placed in honors and AP math classes throughout the rest of my educational career, I struggled greatly without any form of formal support the entire way.

Luckily, one year later, my fourth grade teacher saw beyond my learning disabilities, and I was promptly admitted to the GATE program after passing the testing process. However, this lopsided of view of me, unfortunately, was not just limited to a few of my teachers. It is the issue that lies at the core of me being called dumb, stupid, idiot or dumbass by my own dad and others throughout much of my life.

This is the reason why I felt deficient or broken for so long and had such a large void of self-love within me. My intense curiosity and need to know the meaning or “why” behind things consistently got me into trouble with authority figures throughout my life as they continually punished me in varying ways for questioning the status quo.

As I grew and began to experience trauma, the addictions the ADHD, the bipolarity, and the complex PTSD soon followed. I use all these terms now, not because I subscribe to the typical American implications of them, nor do I subscribe to the American idea of a diagnosis in general. But I do this in an attempt to help most of you who are listening better understand the ramifications of trauma, the importance of the first seven years of our lives, and perhaps even offer a glimpse into some of the inner workings of a trauma survivor’s mind.

Make no mistake, the way in which we treat each other is responsible for all of the world’s ills, and at the heart of this issue lies the way in which we view our own children as well as our inability to sit with negative emotions. This is the source of so much conflict worldwide, and it is the source of the conflict in my story as well.

The conflict within my story only grew as I got older. My depression got much worse both during and shortly after my final semester of high school due to experiencing several losses in short succession. This included breaking up with my very first romantic partner, moving away from all of my friends, coming down with pneumonia during my university orientation week, and my parents finally separating.

All of this happened within the span of only four months. All of a sudden I was much more alone. My support scaffolding was nearly obliterated, and I had nothing in my proverbial toolkit at the time to help myself. My world was turned upside down and I began to fall deeper into despair.

The separation between my parents caused them to transform into even worse versions of themselves as they never got over their resentment towards each other. This manifested in both of them as narcissism, which effectively destroyed what little scraps of love were left within my family.

What this all led to was me taking a medical leave of absence from the University of San Diego in November of 2010. During this time, I was mandated as part of the agreement with the university to begin seeing a therapist and psychiatrist, the latter of which prescribed me Wellbutrin for my severe depression and anxiety.

Wellbutrin is a norepinephrine dopamine re-uptake inhibitor, or NDRI, for short. However, the Wellbutrin made me feel like a zombie while also turning me into an even worse insomniac, so I quickly stopped taking it despite not telling my psychiatrist.

Fast-forward to the summer of 2011. I’m now working full-time for my dad during the months leading up to my return to university, during which I continue to experience severe anxiety. Yet, this is also the time I cease therapy. However, I insist to my psychiatrist on returning to my university studies and reveal to them that I had not been taking my prescription since nearly the beginning in an attempt to show them that I was ready to go back to school.

Thankfully, my appeal worked, but much of what is driving me at this point to go back to school is an intense feeling of shame, provoked largely by my father, around “not doing anything” during my medical leave of absence. This only further delayed my grieving process over the loss of my nuclear family dynamic.

But, now it’s December of 2012. I’ve returned to my psychiatrist yet again, noticing that my depression symptoms have returned since the summer.

I’m still skipping classes left and right, and now I’m placed on academic probation by my university. My psychiatrist’s solution to all this? Prescribing me Prozac. Unfortunately, at the time I wasn’t aware that psychiatrists are little more than pill pushers, and I thought that going to them was my only avenue for getting help.

I silently accept, but yet again, I don’t take the medication. I returned to the psychiatrist again the following month in January of 2013. By this time, I’ve started to realize my serious inability to pay attention being the source of much of my woes. I suggest ADHD to the psychiatrist, to which they then agree to put me on a trial of Strattera.

For reference, my brother was put on ADHD medication in third grade. Looking back, I should have been as well. After being prescribed Strattera, my academic situation turns around completely. Within six weeks, I go from being on academic probation back to Bs and soon after As. However, I end up discontinuing my ADHD medication as well, as the side effects of feeling like someone else or less like myself were never worth the increased focus for me.

But, let me be very clear for everyone here. American prescription medication did little to nothing to help me in the realm of my depression and anxiety. What actually helped me was the talk therapy, and later in 2013, having some semblance of meaning and purpose, which came in the form of my student organization, USD Esports, now known as Terrero Gaming.

These prescription medications don’t help you process the emotions you’re feeling. They only make them go away. Suppressing your own emotions does little good in the long run. Prescription medication is little more than a band-aid solution to something that is not really a problem. If people were instead taught how to sit with and process negative emotions, we would be so much better off as a society here in the U.S. and throughout the world.

This was my dilemma. I didn’t know how to identify my own emotions due to suppressing them so long out of a fear of reprisal from my parents that I began to fear my very own emotions. Being unable to identify, let alone sit with my negative emotions has had profoundly negative impacts throughout my life.

I’ve lost relationships, both platonic and romantic because of it. I’ve spent decades hating myself and viewing myself as broken because of it. I did everything I could to run away from my own feelings every time they arose, and to escape the dismal reality of my life. And due to the lack of support around me, I fell deeper into addiction, much like my younger brother.

This began with video games at the age of five, but eventually progressed into sex, alcohol, and cannabis as I grew older. As I began to experience trauma in the professional world, I found myself falling deeper into my vices, despite having quit binge drinking. One addiction was always replaced by another.

But, after my bicycle crash in December of 2020, and due to my refusal to take prescription painkillers, I went off the deep end with my cannabis use. As I was struggling with my chronic pain and being led on a wild goose chase from doctor to doctor, both in Vietnam, then later back home in California, I was also beginning to further process the trauma throughout my life.

I did this first on my own for over a year, then later with the help of my therapist in the summer of 2021. When I started to piece together the traumatic timeline of my life and identify my addictive behavior patterns, I once again was overcome with anguish, guilt, and despair. I grieved all over again over the loss of any semblance of love within my family and lamented my professional losses too.

On top of that, I was shouldering a lot of shame. I was ashamed of my lack of presence when I was high, I was ashamed of the things I’d do that were against my values when I was drunk, and I was ashamed with where I was at in my life. I wanted to move on, but was struggling with how to do so. What this all felt like was a massive weight upon my mind, shoulders, and chest. It was beginning to crush me. I was carrying so much pain inside of me still, and it had nowhere to go. I was reaching the end of my proverbial rope, grasping at straws as I continued to attempt to heal both my body, mind, and spirit at the same time.

In my life, overcoming the many obstacles that were laid before me was a journey that didn’t have a straightforward or linear path. It involved a lot of introspection and a series of incremental changes peppered with the occasional transformative breakthrough. Often, the healing process felt like two steps forward, one step back. The healing began when I started talking about my trauma, engaging in talk therapy and opening up about my experiences. It was a slow, and at times, daunting process, but it was essential in breaking down the barriers that I had built around my emotions out of fear.

It was through this process that I started to recognize the patterns in my own behavior and began to unravel the complex web of generational trauma that had ensnared my family and myself. Along with therapy, finding a sense of purpose and meaning through my student organization was instrumental in overcoming my depression and anxiety.

This organization gave me a sense of community, a place where I felt I belonged. The feeling of being part of something bigger than myself, of having an impact, provided a significant counterweight to my depressive thoughts.

Then came the process of identifying and addressing my addictive behaviors. This was not easy, and it was marked by periods of relapse, guilt, and shame.

However, the key was to not dwell on these setbacks, but to learn from them. Each stumble, each fall, was not a sign failure, but an opportunity to learn more about myself and my triggers. Ultimately, what helped me the most was the process of self-acceptance. This was not about accepting that I was broken or damaged, but recognizing that I was not. It involved rejecting the negative labels that were imposed upon me by others, and that I had internalized over time.

It was about reclaiming my narrative and acknowledging that while trauma was a part of my past, it didn’t have to define my future. Overcoming the obstacles in my life was and continues to be a journey of healing, self-discovery, and resilience. It’s about making peace with my past, understanding the patterns that have been passed down through generations, and finding ways to break that cycle.

It’s about learning to sit with my negative emotions instead of suppressing them or running from them. Most importantly, it’s about learning to love and accept myself, flaws and all.

The consequences of my life’s events have been far-reaching and have shaped the man I am today. Trauma, the core of it all, has molded my character and defined my struggles.

I found myself repeatedly drawn into the clutches of addiction, each an attempt to numb myself from the crushing weight of my reality, providing a fleeting refuge from the torment of my existence. The relationships in my life too were profoundly affected.

Like I said, I lost friendships, romantic relationships, and connections that meant the world to me at the time, because of my inability to sit with my own emotions, which is an unfortunate consequence of the years of emotional suppression that I endured. The overwhelming fear of reprisal from my parents that began in my childhood persisted into my adult life.

It shaped my relationships, creating an invisible barrier that made genuine emotional connection challenging, if not impossible. Academically, my journey was fraught with hurdles, my difficulties with long division due to dyscalculia, my struggle with attention, the delayed diagnosis of ADHD, all of these combined to make my educational path so much more treacherous.

Yet, it was in overcoming these challenges that I discovered resilience, the strength within me that has propelled me forward in spite of the adversities I have faced. However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom; through my journey I also discovered a sense of purpose and meaning that served as a beacon of light in my darkest hours. When I created USD Esports, or Torero gaming, I found a constructive outlet for my energy. This organization gave me a chance to channel my drive into something positive, into a community that I cared about. The most significant consequence of my life’s experiences has been the formation of who I am: a survivor, an advocate for mental health, and a fighter against adversity.

I am a man shaped by his past, but not defined by it. My mission, my purpose, now lies in sharing my experiences, in highlighting the importance of understanding trauma and in helping others to navigate their own difficult journeys. The most profound lessons I’ve learned from my personal journey of trauma and survival are encapsulated in three concepts: resilience, self-understanding, and acceptance.

Firstly, we have resilience. My journey has taught me that while it can be crippling, trauma can also provide a unique perspective that breeds resilience. Life is a series of adversities, some more profound than others, and it’s not about avoiding them, but about how you bounce back.

I learned that every challenge, every struggle that I went through was an opportunity to grow stronger. But it wasn’t easy. It required me confronting the darkest parts of my past and myself, and acknowledging the impact of my family’s generational trauma while trying to understand how my parents’ separation affected my young adult years.

Secondly, we have self-understanding. Navigating through trauma forced me to look inward, to truly understand myself beyond surface-level attributes. As I said, I was branded with labels like Oppositional Defiance Disorder at a very young age.

It would’ve been easy to let those labels define me, but they were only part of my story. I’ve realized that acknowledging my unique traits, my hyperlexia, my dyscalculia, et cetera, et cetera, has allowed me to turn perceived weaknesses into strengths. It was through this deeper self-understanding that I began to process my experiences and understand my behavior.

And lastly, we have acceptance. One of the most painful realizations was accepting that I had been suppressing my emotions to avoid conflict. It was this suppression that led me to addictive behaviors as coping mechanisms.

Overcoming these addictions, overcoming the constant sense of shame I harbored about my struggles was a process of acceptance. Of my emotions, of my past, and of the fact that it’s okay to not be okay. These lessons have shaped me into who I am today.

They’ve driven me to commit to helping others navigate through their trauma, understand their feelings, and find their own resilience.

I hope that my life story up until now serves as a testament to the fact that it is possible to take back control, to find a sense of purpose amidst chaos, and to ultimately transform trauma into a catalyst for growth.

Thank you for listening.

Tune in next Tuesday, where I’ll be talking with Andrew about how this story of mine is really just one part of a much bigger conversation on mindshifts.

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