How I helped this trauma child with PTSD

Written by Carolyn Cutler Hughes

I do not always like to think about my childhood, but it is who I am. I would like to close all those doors I have in my dreams and put locks on them. I do not want them to open but when they are ready to open, they do just that. I was neglected, abused, and abandoned as a child, and all I ever wanted was to be loved. I never understood why my parents did what they did. Being raised by an 18 year-old, abusive, alcoholic mother and an almost elderly father was described by them as, “We did the best we could.” They passed my brother and myself back and forth for years, taking us from one or the other, just to hurt the other adult, but actually only hurting us children.

I used drugs as a teen, was in a foster home, went to rehab, tried to kill myself, had my boyfriend die, and had a very bad car accident where I almost died. I was a very busy kid trying to find something that would make my life better. I did find enjoyment in art and expressing myself in my high school art room. I would think back to my father being thrilled with my artwork. I drew him pictures every day and he was thrilled, or at least he acted that way. I drew at home and in my classes. I drew pictures of the teachers and my classmates, always looking for approval. And I always got laughs.

After several of my friends had died, lots of partying, suicide attempts, rehab and my car accident, I decided to straighten up. I fell in love with a boy from my high school. We fell hard, we moved in together and my art was abandoned for a while. If I attempted to draw, he would rip it up because nothing could come before him. He was very controlling and physically abusive, and I wondered why I would love someone like that. I realized after being raised by an abusive, alcoholic mother, I fit right into this relationship like a hand fits a glove.

I finally escaped my abusive boyfriend and my mother by going into the military. Anything to get away from those two. I went on to college, got married and had three wonderful boys. Then my world came crumbling down when my dad died. I stayed up, all night, water coloring until I had holes throughout my paper. I just kept coloring and coloring that one page like I was in a trance. Did I mention I did not know how to watercolor? I felt unstable doing this, but I remembered how much art meant to me as a child. I went back to my art and started drawing again and taking watercolor classes.

Years later after several Doctor appointments, I was told I had a life-threatening medical problem and there was nothing I could do about it. I had three young boys and I could not handle the thought of leaving them. I did not know what to do. I prayed, I begged God, I read the Bible and anything I thought might help. I woke up one night at three o’clock in the morning and wrote and illustrated my first children’s book Through God’s Eye. I hid it from everyone because I was embarrassed and thought people would make fun of it.

Year after year I saw difficult things happen to my friends and myself. In each event that occurred, I saw a sweet little cartoon playing out the situation in my head, and then I drew it on paper. This made it easier for me to process. I had learned this coping skill as a child when traumatizing things would happen to me. I had always seen these cartoons but now they were put on paper. Then, I wrote words to go with the pictures, and finally I water colored them for my extended therapy. These were my new drug. I created more and more picture books, about each event that unfolded, but I showed no one. These books helped me mentally work through all sorts of things that I had a hard time with.

My husband pushed me to show my books to other people and finally selling them. There is a story behind each and every one of them. I would go to shows and fairs and share my stories with people, and they shared their stories with me. We would cry and talk and identify with each other. A good friend of mine told me that this was my ministry, to help other people through my books. I never thought of it like that, but it made sense. I loved talking with people and sharing my stories as much as I liked creating these books.

I have so many books to continue to make, each with their own sadness to be soothed. I created these books to help children, but I have noticed that they are helping as many adults as children. They are very visual in nature and are an easy read taking the reader to a soft understanding of something very painful.

I use my emotions to create my books, which in turn creates a feeling of wellbeing in me. I plan to continue illustrating, then writing my books because I have numerous stories to write. Some of the stories that I still need to write are going to be some of the hardest emotionally for me to initiate. I am still working though several of my childhood events. Each door that is opened, creates another book. Creating these books reminds me of labor pains; they are incredibly painful and sometimes can feel like they are taking forever, but the end-result is a wonderful reward for me and a gift to share with the world.


Image credit: Supichaya Sookprasert

You will find Carolyn Cutler Hughes at

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