4 Key Steps Toward Healing Childhood Trauma in Adulthood

I averted my eyes from Elena’s. I felt uneasy. Uncomfortable in my own skin for a moment.

Always seeing deeper into my soul than I could myself, she just made me face the demons I still hid inside. A demon of fear. A demon of rejection. And a demon of self-doubt.

“Demetrye, if you’re going to write this book,” she said, “you must be radically honest. There are enough flakes out there. And people are not dumb. They don’t need a fluff piece. They want 100% transparency and integrity. That’s the only way a real transformation is possible. Can you handle being honest for your readers’ sake?”

Could I?

I wanted to. Yet, a little voice inside me (and by little, I mean the voice of little Demetye) was begging me to hide the truth. To conceal it and mask it with platitudes. But she was right – if I were to write this book, I would have to not only be honest with my readers, but with myself.

I fought back the tears.

“Stop being a punk,” I told myself. “You’re thirty-nine! Get ahold of yourself!”

But nothing could hold back the pain that bubbled up to the surface.

I. Have. To. Face. My. Demons.

I went back to writing.

What forced this moment of agony?

I was writing about my adoptive family.

They put me through hell. Beatings that would rival Guantanamo Bay interrogations. But because they gave me a roof over my head, a pillow to sleep on, and meals to feel my hungry belly when I was young, I wanted to paint them as saints.

Radical honesty. Can I do it? Can I write about them as they were? The voice of little Demetrye was screaming inside of me. He still wanted to protect them. And it was at that moment that I realized that while I was thirty-nine, I still had a lot of unresolved trauma woven into my soul.

Much like a friend of mine. A man’s men of fifty years of age. Yet, when he spoke about his mother, he would break down in tears, recollecting how she abused him. (She called it discipline.)

Trauma is not bias. It does not care about our age, status, or gender. Childhood trauma especially can lodge deep into our DNA, often demolishing everything we hold dear in its wake.
So, how do we heal childhood trauma? And can we?

Elena and I believe that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. There might be as many various ways as there are ways to experience trauma. So, I will tell you about my experience, hoping it will help you as much as it had helped me.

STEP #1: realizing that we have been traumatized

Realizing that the abuse that was inflicted on us, no matter how it was defined by the abusers (discipline, correction, love), was real. This means that we must be willing to re-live some of that trauma in our minds as we bring it to the surface.

I justified my abuse. I justified my abusers. I felt that it was normal to get whipped with a two-by-four until my brown body would turn black from bruises. After all, that’s how Black folk in my community disciplined their young to keep them on the straight and narrow.

It took me moving out of my environment and meeting others to realize that what happened to me was NOT discipline. It was not love.

It took my wife looking me in the eyes to ask hard questions I wanted to avoid to realize that I was abused physically, psychologically, emotionally, and even sexually as a child.

For years, I laughed these off as “well, that’s how my family kept me out of prison.” Because that’s what they told me and I believed them.

But when I was faced with realities different than mine, I could no longer do that.

sTEP #2: facing hidden emotions and embracing the pain

Once I identified the truth – I was a child of trauma and abuse – I had to brace myself. Pain, anger, and devastation bubbled up to the surface. The universe of agony I buried inside since my conception erupted. I could no longer hide from the truth. And neither did I want to.

I was abused! It was not right! It was not fair! I needec answers.

STEP #3: facing the abusers*

My pain, like a hurt animal, wanted reckoning. I needed answers.

I knew that I had to call my abusers – the people I called my family – and confront them.

I did.

The best they could do was: “This is what we had to do to keep you out of trouble. It’s the beatings you got that gave you the life you now have.”

We got nowhere.

I don’t know what I expected, but I felt anger, bitterness, and resentment.

However, by now I knew that holding onto these emotions would be like drinking poison and hoping someone else would die. Trapped emotions do not only char our souls, they can destroy our bodies, our relationships, and our future. The dysfunction I brought into my marriage nearly destroyed Elena and me. I was not willing to gamble the rest of my life. And I no longer wanted to live in the dark prison of my trauma.

So, how do I get free?

(*If you want to heal your trauma, and it’s not safe to confront your abusers, please do not do it! The healing can still happen without their involvement.)

STEP #4:  working on ourselves

When my abusers refused to own up to their wrongdoing, I knew it was up to me to cultivate the healing I craved.

I had to do the work.


Not a glorious word. It’s not pleasant, but…

With perseverance, it’s guaranteed to produce an outcome.

So, I began to bring up every pain and trauma and expose them to the light of truth. Through reflection, meditation, and visualization, I evaluated each for what it was. Looking for lessons I could learn from them, so I would not perpetuate the pain that was inflicted on me. Bathing each one in gratitude (hatred does not heal).

Through persistence, in meditation, I learned to work on my subconscious and conscious self.

Through visualizations, I created the future I wanted for myself and my family. I created the man, the husband, and the father I wanted to be. And then I went to working on myself to become that person.

I allowed the people I respect to correct and help me along the way. My friends. My wife. And even my daughter, because children, in their innocence and purity (something that was stolen from me) are the best teachers we can have.

It’s been twenty years since I left the place I called home and the family that raised me. Through the years I had lived through many emotions – anger, disappointment, shame, guilt. Through the years I learned to develop and live in new emotions – gratitude, forgiveness, acceptance, and love.

I am not the same boy who lived in fear of homelessness, loneliness, and poverty when I was young. I am light-years removed from the pain I buried in me back then. But I do not shy away from the trauma that molded me. Instead, I use my experiences – good and bad alike – to propel me to be better. A better man, a better husband, a better father, a better human.

I have lived an amazing life. I traveled. Met amazing people.

Yet, I am still a work in progress.

Alice Little said:

“As traumatized children, we always dreamed that someone would come and save us. We never dreamed that it would, in fact, be ourselves, as adults.”

I still visit with the child of abuse and trauma I was, during my meditation (I call them time-travels). I sit with him. We have conversations. I comfort him. We cry together. We laugh together. We play. I let him have the childhood and the safety he was not afforded to have. And each time I am with him, I assure him that his life would turn out great. I tell him that the pain he bears will be turned into something precious and amazing. And each time I come back from these time travels, I find myself feeling more whole.

Healing childhood trauma is essential for our growth. It’s imperative for our happiness. It is crucial to our success.

I hope my process is going to help you start healing your inner child and release you from the prison of your trauma. And if you would like to go deeper, because we only scratched the surface in this post, get my book SON OF A WHORE – available to order today.

son of a whore

And please enjoy the special video we (my daughter and I) prepared for you with an excerpt from the book that speaks directly to my process of healing my traumatized inner child, that you see at the top of this page. (BTW, she always loves hearing how great she is at doing videos, so feel free to drop a comment for her :).)