Connected Heart Stories
We have been fortunate enough to listen to people’s stories and allowed into their deepest and most private places. Being invited into someone’s internal world is truly a gift and has been transformative for both of us. Having worked with all kinds of people, one of the most valuable lessons we learned is that although our lives can look very different on the outside, there are similar themes that we all struggle with on the inside.
Connected Heart Stories is a place where people volunteer to share their own stories, creating a place of community where we can be ourselves and grow together.
“Shame dies when stories are told in Safe Places“
We are grateful to have Jennifer Cameron share her story with us.
18 Wheelers In My Head
Just because something is true, does not make it the truth. It’s true that my stepdad was abusive, and he drove an 18-wheeler. However, the 18-wheeler running endlessly in my head was a lie, the opposite of the truth.The process of writing my memoir, 18-Wheelers In My Head, has defined for me there’s a difference between what is TRUE in my life, circumstantial, and replaced it with the TRUTH about me, the person with a heart and soul. Our identities are not defined by our circumstances.
“I’m in the front passenger seat of her VW Bug. I’m not quite five yet and even I know things aren’t going very well. I’m pretty used to it. All my stuff is in the garbage bags somewhere in the back of the VW Bug. She told me I’m getting a new mom and dad soon and I can’t take my old stuff. I’m allowed to keep one dress and one doll, that’s all I’m taking with me. And a lot of bad memories. It’s winter time, cold and grey outside the car window, no sun today. Inside the VW Bug it’s quiet, there’s no talking because she’s already said everything there is to say. She’s driving us down the highway and she’s wearing her furry coat, the one that looks like the fur on a rabbit’s foot keychain. My biological mom Rhonda is driving my sister (almost four) and me to our final drop off, the Children’s home. Now, I know this memory is mostly accurate. The court documents tell me Rhonda voluntarily relinquished my sister and me to the Child Welfare Unit of the Wichita County Family Court Services, in person. Not the Children’s home. And “the parent child relationship of the mother and father of the children were terminated on January 11, 1978.”
My life as I knew it was placed into garbage bags while I watched, crying. I was told that getting rid of all of my belongings would help me forget. Keep in mind I am a witness. This event takes place directly in front of me. I even remember how I felt devastated. Most likely my biological mother, Rhonda, is the fuzzy woman in this memory causing me so much pain. Especially since I remember her personally driving us to our final mom and daughter destination, not a social worker…
Memories fade. Like the pink roses on the one dress I got to keep out of all my belongings tossed into garbage bags. My point is I still have the faded dress, just like I still have the memories, and faded or not, they are mine. A person’s belongings can be dumped in garbage bags and thrown out or recycled or donated. Memories, however, have a mind of their own. You cannot put them in garbage bags or even donate them or recycle them. They don’t ask permission to enter or knock on the door of our mind’s eye. If our hearts are as deep as the ocean, then our memories are the winds pushing her waves. I’ve tried to forget. I’ve tried to wish these memories away, pray them away, and finally write them off…the worst part is not being able to completely remember and not being able to completely forget. My resolve is this, what remains are the words I have found to describe my observations and feelings as I navigated the only childhood I knew which was trapped in my mind. I have done my best to describe to you what it was like for me, walking barefoot across these memories, these shards of glass….
I’m seven now. I’m a few years into my new life. I have my own room, my own bed. At night, I lay in my bed looking at the shadow of the tree outside my window blowing around on my bedroom walls. That doesn’t bother me. I’m not scared, other kids might imagine the shadows are long monster arms with sharp claws coming for them, to whisk them off under their bed. Add the scratching noise the tree branches make hitting the roof above me and most kids would be off to their parents’ room. Not me. I invite these trivial distractions in. Maybe they can drown out the 18-wheelers in my head. The low rumble noise of an 18-wheeler switching gears, slowing down, crawling like a scorpion on the ground. A seek and destroyer. He is coming for me. And no one can help me. So, I stay in bed and let my new mom and dad sleep. Besides, I haven’t seen a shotgun in my new home, and that’s the only thing that makes him go away, but only for a little while. He always comes back. Jim, my biological mom’s husband, is Heather’s father. Jim drove an 18-wheeler. He didn’t approve of me; I was another man’s child. Another man that I have never met and don’t even know his name. That’s why I spent so much time living with my grandparents. Jim was violent. My biological mom, sister, and I needed constant saving from Jim. You’d be better off having never heard of Jim . . . as for me, I have some rocks to unload in that wheelbarrow I talked about earlier. I can’t let these memories weigh me down anymore…
CH: It’s a scary thing to even think about such deeply painful memories. What motivated you to put your story into words and share it with other people.
Jennifer: My pain motivated me. It motivated me to reach out to my pastor who told me I have an incredible story. He asked me to share my story at church, but I wasn’t ready. I have been writing since a young teenager as a way to release emotional pressure. It took a few years of meeting with my pastor to get to a place where I was ready to write my story. I felt it was so important to share my story because I knew deep in my heart there were “others”. I wanted and needed desperately for them to know they are not alone. We may feel alone, but often times our feelings deceive us. I think it’s equally important for others to share their stories. I say this because I have had many people reach out to me thanking me for being brave and sharing my story. Complete strangers have told me I have given them hope for themselves. Women have reached out to me sharing similar stories of a father, or step-father that drove an 18-wheeler and like me, have experienced the sound of the truck in their mind since childhood. Writing my story was very healing. Knowing I have helped others with their pain has been so powerful. If only one person reads my story, I am okay with it. Now I know I was only living half a life because I was distracted by the 18-wheelers in my head. My hope is that others will recognize what is being played over and over again inside the corners of their mind and they can release the pain of the past.
CH: Having worked with many people who experienced early trauma, we understand how impactful these experiences are, it seems like people disregard the impact of early life experiences. Tell us about your experience of connecting your past to your present.
Jennifer: The first five years of my life were very traumatic. My adoptive parents had me in therapy from age 6 to 18. I was actually an inpatient at a Psychiatric hospital for severe depression from the age 13-15. I then continued outpatient therapy until I was 18. These years of therapy helped me develop emotional awareness. I was able to make the connection that my emotional health was directly influenced by the years of trauma I experienced at such a vulnerable and formative age. Even though the trauma had ended, the emotions lived on deep inside of me influencing my personality in very complicated ways. We all carry around baggage from our past experiences that unwittingly shape the lens we look at our environment through. Therapy helped me unpack a lot of my baggage and take a deep look inside. My attitude has always been to face life head on. I want to know the truth. I want to understand. I want to grow. I want to see through the lens I was intended to see life through without the distortions of my past experiences.
Our state of mind can deeply affect our physical health. All roads inside us lead to our heart. What is the condition of your heart and why? Do you think about what you’re thinking about? What is your internal monologue? My adoptive father used to say, you can’t love others, until you love yourself.
CH: So you have completed your book! How has writing the book impacted your life and what is next for you?
Jennifer: Yes, I completed my book! The entire process was very exciting and emotional. I made some major emotional gains during the writing process. I hand wrote most of my book. For me, this was significant because it was therapeutic in a way that typing words on a laptop was not. I never erased a thought or word, I would just draw a line through it. I used a heavy woodless graphite pencil that didn’t have an eraser. SImilar to a meditative experience or flow state, I could feel the words flowing from my mind seamlessly onto the paper. It was as if I was letting go, releasing my feelings and emotions by putting them into words. I wrote the book in three weeks and I felt closure.
Soon after, I had a period of insecurity. I felt frozen and paralzyed to move forward. I made excuses to myself in order to avoid publishing the book such as “ I don’t know how to publish a book”,” what if no one buys it”, or “what if I offend a family member?” I decided I had to be brave, just like I always have been and it helped that I had friends that were supportive and encouraging. I stepped out of my comfort zone and in the process, I learned a lot. My self confidence has grown by leaps and bounds. The biggest impact from my book is the people that have reached out to me sharing their stories, thanking me for being vulnerable, for giving them hope, and for being brave. The day my book was released there was a DJ on the radio asking people if they wonder what their purpose in life is. For the first time ever in my life, I answered that question with a NO! Writing my book gave me a sense of purpose and accomplishment. It gave my life new meaning. I have met the most amazing people through sharing my story.
Moving forward I want to help others share their story in any way possible. I want to help others get to a place where they can write their story.
To read Jennifer’s story 18 Wheelers in my Head follow her on facebook
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