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Kenneth Barron can still see it.
He’s a child in his house. His stepfather, who has been drinking, begins hitting his mother. Kenneth tries to stop him. He wants to help his mom…but can’t.
“I'm standing there as a little kid trying to fight a grown man off when my brother's not helping me," he says. "It's just battling a dinosaur with a toothpick. That's the way I looked at it. And as a kid I stood up against him about it, but then it brought more pressure on me because I didn't know if he was going to start beating me. It was a tough situation.”
Kenneth Barron can still hear it. His mother, crying out in pain.
"... within my mind I could hear it ... as it was yesterday ...
The sights and sounds of his trauma, the emotional damage caused by witnessing these repeated beatings, would shape Kenneth’s life.
At first, he tried to deny it.
“... it got strong enough to overwhelm me ..."
The demon: crack cocaine.
Studies show trauma victims are much more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol.
“By me suppressing it, it caused me to start using drugs because I had to have something else to help me suppress it. And that triggered off a lot of other things that happened to me in my life.”
He was convicted of aggravated battery, a felony, and spent three years in prison.
“So I did the time and I came out, but I found out coming out with a felony was a struggle getting a job. So it was very hard for a while.”
He eventually found work with help from JobsWork MKE, a nonprofit that helps hard-to-employ people find jobs. But the effects of trauma persisted.
“Sometimes certain things would trigger you and you don't know what triggers you. Certain situations will put you back there.”
Kenneth sought help but was told to just block it out.
“People would tell me, other therapists would tell me, ‘It's just in your mind. You're just thinking that.' Yes, it is in my mind, but I'm still reliving it.”
Finally, he got a diagnosis: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD.
“They started treating me and helping me through the process of it and educating me about it.”
Now, when he feels extreme stress coming on, he goes for a walk, changing his physical environment to change his mindset. But the battle is not over. He still struggles with depression -- a common, long-lasting result of childhood trauma. At times, it’s caused him to lose jobs.
“I go in a depressed mode and it kills my self-esteem. I don't want to do nothing. I don't want to be bothered. I shut off from people. But when you go into that depressed mode, it is just like you don't care no more. You just don't want to be bothered.”
He tries to get out of that mindset, but it’s hard to do.
“... jump in this battle with me and see how hard it is ...”
He still lives with the fear that he could witness the kind of violence he saw as a child.
I've always walked on eggshells,” he says. “I don't have a lot of trust.”
Since his stepfather became violent after consuming alcohol, Kenneth doesn’t socialize with people who drink.
"...that's the part I have fear about, the unknown."