Unbroken: Trauma to Triumph

By Stefanie Sacks, MS, CNS, CDN

Although real weight concerns were never my challenge, as a teenager and young adult I deeply struggled with my general health, both physical and mental, including body image issues and eating disorders. As a child I had endured an unspeakable violation that shattered my innocence and left me carrying a lifetime of pain. Feeling like a constant burden to my parents, concealing my suffering became second nature. The impact of these traumatic events took its toll.

To say that I spent decades attempting to untangle my complex narrative hardly captures the depth of my journey. Why was I constantly plagued by physical ailments? What caused such turbulence in my mental well-being? Why did anorexia and bulimia haunt me? Raised in affluence with access to food, healthcare, education and so much more, I felt guilty about my suffering. Yet, my circumstances, including living in a home where I couldn't trust what was going to happen from one minute to the next, motivated me to break free from the pain. I just didn’t know how. 

Receiving a diagnosis of bipolar disorder in my mid-twenties felt all wrong. However, within a family system marked by clinical depression and bipolar, my diagnosis brought a sense of relief, particularly for my parents. I became the identified patient, the one who was unofficially chosen as the bearer of all symptoms related to an entire family's dysfunction. Over the course of nearly two decades, I relied on medication, but my journey didn't stop there. I committed myself to working closely with skilled trauma therapists alongside my psychopharmacologist, with group therapy also playing a role in my healing process. My intuition told me that bipolar disorder was not an accurate diagnosis for me. I dedicated the next 15 years to fervently seeking knowledge and understanding to redefine my story and embark on a journey of healing, all with the support of qualified health professionals and credible healers. 

Complex-Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is a condition marked by repeated experiences of betrayal or loss of safety.

Devouring self-help books gradually evolved into delving into the latest research on early childhood trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder, scouring peer-reviewed journals and acquiring relevant literature. In 2014, during a pivotal appointment with my psychopharmacologist, I expressed doubts about my bipolar diagnosis, advocating instead for Complex-Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD)—a condition marked by repeated experiences of betrayal or loss of safety. Discontinuing all medication became imperative to me, and remarkably, my psychopharmacologist agreed. This decision marked the dawn of a new chapter in my healing journey.

Intergenerational trauma is legit—hurt perpetuates hurt.

I began to understand that intergenerational trauma is legit—hurt perpetuates hurt. So unless the trauma cycle is broken, it will continue. In 2016 I was introduced to Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families, a 12-step program, as well as Hidden Water both of which profoundly altered the trajectory of my life, guiding me towards the person I am today.

Driven by a fierce determination, I continued on my  quest to uncover the root of my struggles, part of which involved challenging the system in which I was raised. Ultimately, our bodies do keep the score. The amalgamation of intergenerational trauma alongside my own Adverse Childhood Experiences  (ACEs) manifested not only in physical illness but also mental anguish. Without adequate support or the necessary tools to navigate my challenges from a young age, the weight of my suffering felt overwhelming. Yet, despite the suffocating pain and despair, I refused to surrender. I empowered myself with knowledge, sought help, and dug deep. As a result I am now in a much healthier, happier and peaceful place.

But my body has indeed kept the score. I live with chronic illness—an autoimmune disease and kidney disease. However, with proper nourishment, lifestyle choices, medication, regular monitoring, I am the healthiest sick person my doctors know.

I share this deeply personal narrative with the sincere hope that it may serve as a beacon of guidance for you or someone dear to you. Getting to the other side of pain is a path fraught with challenges—it demands effort and resilience. Yet, if I can do it, so can you! Embrace the process, for it is through doing the work that true liberation from suffering is attained.

Here are several books that have helped me along the way:

An excerpt from my personal story (writen in slam poetry):

My onion
Slicing and dicing
The layers back
Like a culinary hack
Until I realized the key
Was about gently cutting and peeling towards
To get to the center
So life could be better
I realize it was never me
Releasing this story you see
A pinnacle for sure
Allows me to be free
I can truly help more
So if you want to heal
Your relationship with eats
It could be a start
To open up your heart
It’s about love, community
So come cook with me
Learn how to nourish thee
As a woman and mother
Heart, mind and palms open
I’m humbly here to help you
Peel your onion

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