Endings Are Rarely Happy

Content warning: This post discusses childhood trauma, death, and the Holocaust.
“I’ve been born for some time
And I’ve got death on my mind…
All we ever had is hunger
All we never get is power
Would you ever feed each other?” -Aurora, Hunger

In a recent email, one of my readers told me that it seems things are not getting better for me, but worse. I have thought a lot about that sentiment, and what it says about this world and what it expects of people like me. The hope is for a happy ending. People want to see me rise above the circumstances of my childhood. I should move on and grow beyond it. I should get an education, be healthy, and live a long life, having triumphed over the trauma.

This is based on a misunderstanding of how trauma works. The research shows that trauma doesn’t lead to happy endings. The more trauma people experience in childhood, the more likely they are to suffer later in life from the repercussions. This is the cause and effect of abuse and neglect. People with childhood trauma are more likely to develop medical conditions than their peers who had what researchers call “good enough” childhoods.

It might seem like people who’ve been abused are likely to be better at identifying abusive behaviors and avoid them later in life. The opposite is true: those of us who experienced abuse as children are more vulnerable in adulthood because we don’t know what normal behavior looks like. Human beings are drawn to familiarity and this is to our detriment if what is familiar causes damage. Happy endings are the exception, not the rule.

Life isn’t fair. Some people go through life only experiencing a few traumas, bouncing back because the rest of their time is spent developing true resilience. The fact is that children are not resilient. If they were, the world wouldn’t be so full of dysfunctional adults. For that matter, there wouldn’t be so many people who don’t live to see adulthood at all.  

This honesty is not the same as giving up. I am telling the truth about how things are going as the years go on. I am not throwing up my hands and refusing to do what I can to make the best of every day. I can write. I am doing that right now. I can ask for help and do my best to help others. I can treasure every moment I get with my partner. I can savor good food and appreciate playtime with my cats. I can participate in relationships with people who are also struggling.

I will probably not live for another sixty years like my peers who were born at the same time as me. Growing old is a privilege for those who’ve dodged the adversities that knocked everyone else out. There are people alive today who were born at the same time other infants were being murdered by the Nazis. Today, in the United States, Nazism is alive and its adherents are targeting the same groups it did 78-90 years ago. They want to bring an end to anyone who does not conform and submit to white, Christian, able-bodied, cishet standards.

I will die before I have finished saying all that I have to say. That is a fact, no matter how long I end up living. I could write endlessly and still not say everything, and I am not alone among writers. I hope to at least finish one book, hopefully more than one book. I will do my best.

Nothing is certain in this life except death. We would do well to stop helping death along.