Alana Walczak

"When I was a child, I longed for someone to see me. To really, really see me. To know me, to understand me, to “get” me.

I longed for someone to see that I wasn’t as happy as I always pretended to be. I wished for someone to see that I had a world of experiences and feelings. I wanted someone to ask me how I was doing and actually listen to the answers. I needed someone to see that I was terribly lonely, that I was struggling, and that I needed help.

But no one ever did. Not once.

I was mired in a family of domestic violence, mental illness, substance abuse, and generations of emotional and physical abuse. Everyone was hurting, all of us were wounded, and each of us was struggling with isolation, confusion, and rage.

And, I learned to hide it so well.

I was the adorable little girl in the mismatched clothes with a smile on my face. I was the middle school student who got straight A’s and made her teachers happy. I was the quiet teenager who excelled at school and seemed so well-adjusted but sat alone in my room to escape the incessant arguing and agonizing emptiness of my home.

I always knew that something wasn’t right in my family, but for much of my life, I couldn’t really explain it. I had a warm bed to sleep in, I had three meals each day, and I personally was spared physical and sexual abuse.

But, looking back, I see that there was also tremendous control and coldness, emotional manipulation, and unexpected outbursts. There was a disturbing lack of empathy and compassion, a thing of anger just below the surface, and absolutely no emotional connection of any kind. It was a dark and scary place.

On the few occasions when I tried to speak up about what I felt, I was told I was crazy, that I should be grateful for what I had, and that I should just stop complaining. So, I did the best I could to survive. I hunkered down, “took care of myself,” and built an enormously thick shield of emotional armor to prevent anyone from hurting me ever again.

But, my coping skills didn’t always serve me well. I became numb and overwhelmed. I became ashamed of who I was and where I came from. I kept myself isolated from others who might be able to help. And, for far too long, I negated my opinions, doubted my perceptions, and silenced my own intuitive voice.

When I became the CEO of CALM, my journey was changed forevermore. I learned that the traumas I experienced in my childhood had long-lasting impacts on the development of my identity and personality. I learned that a healthy attachment between parent and child is the core building block for a healthy life. And, I also learned that even though I didn’t have those strong connections as a child, I could begin to build them now.

Most importantly, I began to trust and use my voice. To educate our community about the devastating impacts of childhood trauma. To raise awareness about the possibility of prevention. To support parents in building a connection with their children. To speak for vulnerable children who may not yet have found their own voice. And, to begin to share some of my innermost thoughts and feelings in order to help others, while also connecting with myself.

But the most profound experience for me thus far has been becoming a parent. As a mom, I have been given the opportunity to do the most important healing of my life. With the support and knowledge, I have gained, I am creating a very different reality for my girls – one of security, connection, and validation. I tell them how smart, beautiful and worthy they are. I give them hugs and kisses when they are hurting. I create space for them to express themselves emotionally.

And, I tell them they are loved every single day.

More than anything else, my connection with them has taught me that I too am loved, that I am deserving of love, and that I have a deep capacity to love. It’s not always easy, but I’m learning that my childhood experiences don’t need to define me forever. I can acknowledge the impact they have had, and I can also move forward.

I am learning to confront my debilitating anger, address the depths of my shame, and begin to feel whole and happy. I am learning to be less judgmental of myself and to understand that none of what happened to me was my fault. I am learning to honor my needs and feelings and to share them with others. And, I am learning to be kind to myself, to be vulnerable, and to ask for help when I need it.

Healing from childhood trauma is a lifelong process. It’s a journey of hope and tremendous potential. I am excited to see where the future takes me."

Nathan Williamson