Ace Whitman, LCPC
You’ve worked hard to get past your harmful childhood experiences, yet you feel stagnant in your healing process. You are really tired of life feeling so hard all of the time and are well overdue for some relief from the struggle. You want to just be able to live your life without the constant emotional hijacking that seems to come out of nowhere and more frequently than you’d like to admit. You’re ready to do something different with the hope that you’ll finally get some lasting relief from the pain.
I Was Ready Too
I found healing on a deeper level, and now I’m a therapist for adults who grew up in unhealthy, abusive, or neglectful households to help them find deeper healing too.
Ace Whitman, LCPC
I Was The Fixer
I was always the fixer in my family. I was the one who spent my childhood taking care of my siblings and trying to make my mom happy. My mom wasn’t capable of taking care of herself, let alone her 5 young children.
I felt like if I didn’t do the caretaking, then no one was going to do it. My mom struggled with bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and addiction. She just didn’t have the ability to raise 5 kids on her own. My older brother didn’t seem interested in taking on that role, and I was the next oldest, so the responsibility fell to me.
I made sure my siblings were up and ready for school. I comforted them when they were upset. I did the cooking and cleaning. One of my earliest memories was standing on a chair to wash the dishes because I wasn’t tall enough to reach the sink. I stood there and watched out the kitchen window as my siblings played with their friends. I cried as I felt forgotten, left out, and overlooked.
It was no surprise to anyone when I chose a career in the helping field. I had spent my life taking care of everyone. It was the core of my identity at that point. Becoming a counselor would give me the chance to help more people and learn more ways to help my family. I needed all the tools I could get my hands on to help them better.
I had not done such a great job at saving my mom or siblings when I decided to get into counseling. I managed to escape to my father’s home when I was 14, giving me the opportunity to get away from the traumatic environment. My siblings weren’t so lucky. They all followed in my mother’s footsteps, battling their own mental illness and addictions.
I Was The One Who Needed Help
Although I managed to move in with my father at the age of 14, I didn’t escape my past traumatic experiences unscathed. I didn’t know it until many years later, but I was eventually diagnosed with PTSD. Looking back, that was obvious. If you had asked me when I was in college, however, I would have thought you were crazy.
I was well into my master level courses for counseling when I realized that I really got into the helping field because it was easier to distract myself with helping others than face the reality that I needed help myself.
When I slowed down and paid attention to myself and my life, it was clear that my life was unmanageable and chaotic.
I had spent so much time focusing on everyone else around me and not focusing on taking care of myself.
I realized that I needed my own counseling because my life was a disaster. I had none of the skills I would soon be teaching my clients once I graduated. I was codependent and in a relationship with a person who was in the depths of alcoholism. I was still entrenched in my mother’s addiction and still trying to control her and fix her.
I was desperate to fix everyone around me because deep down I feared that if I didn’t succeed at saving them, then my life was meaningless.
That’s when it hit me like a punch in the gut.
I had no sense of value outside of being the caretaker. I had no self-esteem. I had no sense of meaning in my life other than being the rescuer.
At that time, it was clear I needed help. Since I was learning how to be a therapist, I figured the best place to get help was by getting my own therapy. I dove into my therapy headfirst and began working as hard at fixing myself as I had been trying to fix everyone else around me up until that point.
The process was overwhelming and exhausting. It seemed like every time I made some progress, and I thought life was finally going to be easier, I ended up with an intense reality check that I still had a long way to go. I’d make a little progress, take a break from the intense work, get wrapped back up in the pain, and dive back into the work again.
My healing journey took a sudden, major shift when I was diagnosed with PTSD.
At first, I didn’t understand how I fit the criteria for PTSD. At the time, I was in denial that my life had been traumatic.
Because I had grown up in the trauma, it felt normal to me.
Even as a therapist myself, I didn’t see my own life experiences as abuse and neglect. My therapist explained to me about complex trauma, and I realized that my entire childhood was repeated small traumas that built up, leaving lasting impacts on my life.
I realized that having a mother who frequently left us home alone to go to the bar was traumatic. I realized that staying up until the middle of the night waiting for her to come home, hoping she was safe, was not a normal experience for a 4 year old.
I realized my need to take care of my siblings was because we were severely neglected. I realized the constant screaming, throwing, shoving, and breaking things around me was traumatizing. I was never hit, but watching it happen around me was still very impactful on my developing brain.
I started to see that my need to fix things for others came out of the pain of feeling abandoned, of feeling forgotten, of feeling not good enough.
My beliefs in childhood were that if only I could be better, do better, and get my siblings to do better, then maybe my mom wouldn’t be so stressed. Maybe she wouldn’t leave every night. Maybe she’d love me.
Suddenly, things started to make sense to me. I began feeling some compassion for myself as I started to see why everything was so hard for me all of the time.
I had spent my entire life in survival mode as a reaction to trauma.
I realized I wasn’t inherently messed up or not good enough.
I realized that my life long role as helper was my way of trying to survive. I spent my entire life feeling like I needed to be the helper, the fixer, and the rescuer because I needed love and approval so desperately.
Understanding Led to Deeper Healing
My new understanding of myself gave me the jumping off point I needed to really dive deep into my healing. Although I continue to struggle from time to time, I’ve made tremendous leaps and bounds in my healing process.
I no longer see and feel danger in almost every situation.
I can quickly recognize when I’ve been triggered and I’m able to assess if I’m actually in danger or if I’m reacting to emotions coming back from the past.
I’ve learned how to avoid the avoidable triggers, and I’ve learned to respond in healthy ways to the triggers I can’t avoid.
I’ve figured out when I’m unconsciously defaulting back to my trauma reaction. I can slow down and decide what I need to do to take care of myself to feel safe again.
Doing all of this helps me to be in a much better position to live my life the way I want instead of being controlled by my emotions.
I have strong, safe, healthy relationships for the first time in my life.
I have the ability to go places and do things and just have fun, without having to worry about everything and everyone around me. I’m able to take care of myself first, and then I get to choose to help others out of the pure pleasure of helping and no longer out of the need to fill a void in my life.
I didn’t get to this point right away. It took working with a few different therapists over the years. It took a lot of reading, a lot of applying new treatment methods, and a lot of practicing. I spent a lot of time learning the many different ways to treat complex trauma.
The more I worked at healing from my past, the more I developed a passion for helping others like me.
I realized that there are a lot of adults who don’t know that the reason they are struggling so much is because they are having a trauma response. I realized that I could actually help them heal because I had done the healing myself.
I knew that complex trauma isn’t well researched yet, which means it isn’t taught in school. Most therapists don’t know the best approaches and don’t really have the time or energy to learn how to treat it once they are out of school.
That’s why I decided to specialize in working with adults like me. I know there are so many people out there in need of help and not enough counselors who are able to provide the understanding and skills to help in the ways that these people need.
Taking the Leap
I had been working in nonprofit agencies providing generalized counseling services to people with all kinds of backgrounds and symptoms for several years. Although I knew I could help a lot of people with diverse concerns, I also knew it was no longer fueling me. I knew I needed to prioritize my energy by putting my experience, knowledge, and skills towards helping those who could really benefit the most.
In February of 2019, I took a giant leap away from working for nonprofit agencies and stepped into my own counseling practice full time.
Taking this giant leap has given me the opportunity to further dive into working with the people I really love working with-- adults who are ready to dive deep into their own healing journeys after a lifetime of struggling.
Every day that I get to work with these amazing people is another day that I am affirmed that this is exactly what I’m meant to do with my life.
When You’re Ready To Heal Too
If you feel like you’re ready to take the next step in your healing journey, I’d love to work with you! Just send me a message in the box below to get started!
Having gone through the healing process myself has been instrumental to my ability to help others through counseling. I wouldn’t be able to help in this way without also having the educational background and training. I provide professional counseling services and I’m licensed to practice counseling in Illinois.
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, Illinois, # 180.010893
Master of Arts, Community Counseling, Argosy University, Atlanta, GA 2012
Bachelor of Arts, Psychology, University of Illinois, Springfield, IL 2009
Certified Clinical Trauma Professional