Brokena :damaged or altered by or as if by breakingb :having undergone or been subjected to fracturec :not working properlyd :disrupted by changee :made weak or infirmf :subdued completely (a broken heart/a broken spirit)g :cut offh :imperfectly spoken or writteni :not complete or full
The vulnerability project was born of brokenness. Of a desire to put together pieces of my soul and spirit in a new and unique way sure, but at its core, out of brokenness.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been processing an event that occurred more than a decade ago. Part of trauma is the constant cycling of information in your brain, the recycling even of new ways of looking at the same event. My therapist would refer to it as processing (UGH).
I’ve loved, truly loved, two men in my life. I’m married to one of them.
This event involved the other.
More than a decade ago, I worked at an overnight camp and fell in love with an amazing person. He was strong, kind, and knew what it was like to live through something hard. At the time, I was still going through night terrors and reliving my own trauma, and he was able to empathize as he was a vet with PTSD himself. The ability to speak the same language with him, without ever actually talking was unique and powerful. For the first time in years, I felt like I wasn’t alone.
So much could go unsaid. But not like in the outside world. Words could go unsaid because finally there was understanding. I could bring up a trigger, and I didn’t have to go through the full story. He could do the same. It was like being in a book group, with someone finally reading the whole book, just like I did. It was a breath of fresh air.
I felt broken for years, alone, like a jagged shard of glass, but around him… since he had his own trauma, I thought perhaps we could be more like sea glass. We could tumble a bit together and become something less sharp, if only because we had a mutual understanding.
Maybe together, we could both heal.
One night in the pitch black we went walking together in the neighboring regional forest next to our camp, after work. It was dark, but I was with him. I was with him. We were just talking. I said something that caused him to be upset with me. I recall he stopped. We stopped. and then he left me there.
And suddenly I was alone.
I remember my thoughts running in fast forward.
Where did he go?
Why did he leave me here?
Where am I?
I have no way of getting back, what will I do?
I am going to die here.
And then I started to panic.
My mind flashed.
Suddenly I wasn’t in the forest, I was in my assault, and he put me there. He left me alone in the middle of the woods, he knew what he was doing, and he left me unsafe.
Someone I loved, someone I trusted.
I came back to my body in a violent landing, like a comet hitting the Earth because that’s exactly what I had done. I was on the forest floor on my hands and knees, wondering why it was so loud. What is that horrible noise? What is dying?
That noise was me, screaming.
Time stood still. I screamed and screamed. I had no way of getting back, I didn’t know where I was in the park because I thought I was walking with someone safe,
someone I loved,
someone who would protect me.
He was in the army for god sakes, leave no one behind?
I thought I was going to have to wait until daylight to return back to camp, and if I had to scream until then, I would.
He finally returned.
We walked back together, and by that I mean somehow his body and mine shared space along the way to where we needed to go.
I moved my things out of his cabin that night, and he kept moving them back in. I recall sleeping next to him shaking.
I spent time thinking about this throughout the following days/weeks and made a conscious choice to put it aside in my memory. “You’re broken,” I thought. “This might be your chance. He gets that you are broken, and stays anyway. This might just need to be the way it is.”
So we moved on. We stayed together for several more months together until we broke up in the fall.
Years go by, and we reconnect. He has married and has a lovely wife and kids. I do too and we realize that we still both deeply care for each other. We have great conversations, and I look forward to any time we are able to talk.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago.
Out of nowhere, he says (I’m paraphrasing) “You know, I’m sorry for what happened in the forest. I knew it would trigger your PTSD. That’s why I stayed nearby, you couldn’t see me, but I was nearby.”
……… And I look at those words and my heart sinks.
He had left me there and heard me suffer. While he listened nearby, triggering me into a trauma space. And as someone with PTSD himself, doing that knowingly. Suddenly my narrative of the situation drastically changed. I thought he had left and then returned when he noticed I hadn’t made it back. Instead, he was nearby, listening to me scream.
I spoke with him via skype because I needed to know what he was thinking. I needed to know one thing. Had I triggered HIM, with something I had said? This was the ONLY reason I could come up with, the only acceptable purpose for him leaving me in that moment. It was the first time that I had HOPED that I had royally messed up and done something egregious.
But I hadn’t.
And I knew I hadn’t.
He said I hadn’t.
I had “frustrated him” he said.
I started to spiral and went into a very dark place. How could someone I loved so deeply do this to me? Could I trust anyone to not do this to me? I had recently lost a friendship with someone I had cared about who hadn’t valued my friendship, was this a pattern? Am I broken?
Could I trust myself, my heart, with a person who would purposely do something to trigger me into a deeply traumatic space, regardless of our history? I found myself mourning the idea of losing someone who had been a big part of my life, and someone who was truly one of the only people who spoke the trauma language fluently in my life.
This relationship is broken.
a: damaged or altered by or as if by breaking
b: having undergone or been subjected to fracture
c: not working properly
d: disrupted by change
e: made weak or infirm
f: subdued completely (a broken heart/a broken spirit)
g: cut off
h: imperfectly spoken or written
i: not complete or full
I HATE that this situation has now spun me into questioning whether other people I love and care about will also “leave me in the forest” triggered, and terrified for reasons that aren’t equivalent to the amount of terror that it imposes on me.
Will my husband? Will my friends? Will my care team?
I feel vulnerable.
I feel that I let my guard down, and I’m now reaching for my shield again.