CHILDHOOD SCARS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

We are all shaped by events from our early childhoods. Childhood traumas can have permanent effects. Their scars can affect the development of self-image and self-esteem in our early years. They can determine how we see ourselves and how we perceive the world around us. They can affect how we relate to others.

I started life with a handicap. I was born with what today would be considered a milk allergy. In 1949, when I was born, it was called Celiac. I couldn’t digest even the lightest baby formula. It gave me severe colic and projectile vomiting. For years, children had died from this condition.

Me as an infant

Fortunately for me, someone had discovered the banana diet for Celiac babies. It turned out that infants with Celiac could digest bananas and goat’s milk. So I was put on this severely limited diet. The doctor told my parents to bring me back when I was four years old. By then I would probably have outgrown the disease. At age four my parents started feeding me regular food and I can and do eat everything now.

Me at age two

But for my first four years of life, I couldn’t eat ANYTHING that everyone else could eat. My parents decided that to ‘protect’ me, I should eat alone for those four years. They never allowed me to watch them eat, or anyone else during that time. I didn’t go to people’s homes or to other children’s birthday parties. My parents hoped that that would minimize my feelings of being different from everyone else. It didn’t.

I vividly remember standing in the playground, watching other kids line up for ice cream at the Good Humor truck. Of course I couldn’t eat ice cream. It hit me that I wasn’t like the other kids. There was something wrong with me. I was defective. That became the core of my self-image, and still is to this day. On a subconscious level, I always felt inferior to other people. Lacking in some way.

Me at around four with my grandmother (top) and a cousin

Unfortunately I also suffered from undiagnosed childhood anxiety and depression. I didn’t sleep through the night and wet the bed until a was around six or seven. I had severe school anxieties and learning problems. I developed ‘stomach problems’ of unknown origin, like cramps and constipation. I was in therapy by the age of six.

Ironically, my father was a well-known psychoanalyst who wrote about the lasting importance of the first three years of a child’s life. Sadly, he understood the damage that my early illness would cause. He and my mother, also a psychologist, tried to bolster my ego as much as they could. I’m grateful to them for trying to mitigate the damage.

Me with my parents at around age seven

I had years of therapy as an adult, including a technique used for PTSD sufferers called EMDR. Eventually I was able to loosen the grip of these early negative self perceptions. They weren’t all due to the Celiac diet. But my early illness exacerbated my anxiety and depression disorders. It also made it harder for me to fight my demons, since they had been reinforced every day till I was four years old.

I have reached a point where I can feel good about myself, most of the time. After an abusive first marriage that lasted 25 years, I now have a wonderful husband and wonderful, healthy relationships with friends and family.

I can finally say the scars have faded. With a little luck, they will eventually disappear.

5 thoughts on “CHILDHOOD SCARS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

  1. They do disappear. Mine finally did. There are residues left — a tendency to get defensive quickly if I feel threatened and a huge dislike of being touched without permission. But that’s pretty good and it took me a long time to get here. A lot of years including 7-years of shrinking, and writing a book. The book was the real cure.

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  2. For some, perhaps, it disappears. In my book of life and other loved ones, I believe we just learn how to quiet those demons within us with time, skills, and practice. It becomes a faint whisper, and one can usually choose to shush it away. Godspeed toward your peace.

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  3. Such beautiful photos. So much of what we experience as a child remains within us- shapes who we become. It may be “forgotten” but trying to “undo” some of how we are wired I have found fruitless. I work on myself to change what I can, but parts of my nature are just who I am now. I have found acceptance to be a good thing too.

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