church, Process, Spiritual Abuse, Vulnerability

When Being Human Feels Like Imposter Syndrome

For me, nothing feels more vulnerable than not being able to perform at the level I’m used to.  I find solace in the idea that if anything I prove my worth by doing ALL THE THINGS.   Over the past few months, my health has taken a weird turn, requiring me to really pare down how much I am “doing” throughout the day.  I’m consistently tired, thus needing to pass some of the workloads I’ve previously owned, to my husband.

At the same time, I’ve been in therapy with Jessica for over three years now.  I’ve been working through years and years of trauma and abuse, while simultaneously trying to {adult/wife/mother}.

I have a lovely husband, an amazing child, and a great life.  But my trauma keeps me from enjoying it the way I should.  I feel like an imposter in this life, as if I can’t play all the parts I should to deserve it all. I sit in therapy and spin in circles about the human I am, who I was supposed to be, and the complex factors that created who I am today.

Despite her not giving me a single reason to, I’ve consistently challenged Jessica’s dedication to me as a client by calling her out on various things she says that trigger me.  (Interestingly enough, she probably finds this totally helpful and empowering for me to do.)  Every few months I seem to hit this Wall of “OMG WHY AM I NOT “BETTER” YET?”  Today she mentioned in response to the Wall, that therapy for complex trauma survivors can take 10 years + to move through.

I was dumbfounded.  Then she drops this:

“When you’ve grown up in persistent and systemic abuse, with incident after incident, complex trauma, therapy is a process of totally rebuilding a new human being.

Of course it’s going to take a long time.

Not only that, but it’s expected and okay.”

I left shaken, and in tears of both shame {for feeling this way} and relief {maybe I’m not broken?} I turned on a podcast and started listening to my weekly “geek-out” of Psychology in Seattle about Imposter Syndrome.

The podcast got me thinking.  I feel like just existing is imposter syndrome for me.  I consistently question my own reality because of the spiritual abuse I experienced.  The church shunned facing trauma head-on and working through it.  I recall ministries that would have you bring your trauma to a weekend retreat and be expected to let god heal it all {read: never need to worry about, deal with, or mention said trauma again}.  If you did struggle with that trauma afterward it was because of {a lack of faith, a lack of reading your bible enough, a lack of prayer, unconfessed sin in your life}.

Perhaps this is why the formerly religious struggle so much with trauma.  Without a forum to safely express feelings, doubts, and struggles,  how is trauma to be resolved? {Or maybe not even resolved, but integrated into our lives.} When lack of healing is connected with lack of faith, there is little motivation to explore struggle with past trauma.

When I was in the church, I was basically cattle.  I was being raised to fulfill certain duties {youth leader/wife/worship leader} and to not stray beyond that.  Purity was of the utmost importance, and the appearance of being unblemished was critical for those roles.  The girls, specifically, were raised with a goal of a marriage and children.  There was little room in there for humanity or cracks in our perfect porcelain plates.  In order to have a great match, endorsed by the pastors, we needed to have an appearance of perfection, and a lack of struggle to be holy.

Upon exiting the church, I felt everything I was and formed myself to be was called into question.  I was wandering among the world we were taught to not be of, with huge gashes from childhood and young adult complex trauma, with no support system.  I felt so vulnerable because the part I was groomed to play was suddenly taken away from me.  An arranged marriage to a member of the ministry, all my friends, my musical self {worship team}, and even my family.  My sense of self was systemically taken from me {or never allowed to develop}, piece by piece during my childhood through to my young adult days along with countless others.  {Some of whom are still deeply involved in the church life to this day, and now a cog in the spiritual abuse wheel.}

Thankfully, I’m a member of several FB groups where deconstructing religious experiences and spiritual trauma is an everyday discussion.  I feel less alone when I see similar stories of spiritual abuse, and how their experiences in the church have cause people significant and ongoing harm.  It hurts me to know that a group of people can hurt people so badly, and even after a person leaves there is significant, ongoing wounds that pop up.

On the flip side, at times a topic will be brought up that turns my world on end again.  This goes along the lines of “know better, do better.”  I will suddenly have a realization that something I experienced wasn’t normal, or was downright abusive, which puts me back in the trenches of needing to deconstruct my long-held beliefs.

I frequently doubt my ability to reconstruct a whole human being from the broken parts I’ve gathered over the years.  I feel a sense of obligation to be further along in my process than just 3 years.  When I struggle to be the perfect wife, mother or friend, I have little sympathy for myself, or grace.  I am keenly aware this is a result of the unbending black/white thinking I grew up in, but cutting myself the slack to know that I’m not going to break my child by reacting a certain way when I’m triggered… my husband isn’t going to leave me because I need to rest and not unload the dishwasher… I’m not failing at life because I sit in therapy every week spinning on the same issues over and over… is difficult.

 

 

Vulnerability

Bypass of the Raw

Perhaps what makes us most vulnerable are the parts of us that we cannot change, but affects the way people see us, treat us… talk to us.. talk about us.

A lengthy conversation started over the comments Matt Damon said about how there is a scale of severity when it comes to sexual assault.  “Why is everyone jumping on Damon?” My male friend asked.  “I mean, it’s true isn’t it, there is a difference between a slap on the ass and rape.”

While not wrong, this guy was still missing the point.  Let’s have a master class about why Damon is missing all the marks.

First, Damon is a man, commenting on the scale of severity in regards to sexual abuse and assault on women.  This has been the state of being for centuries.  Men making decisions on whether a rape occured, whether the assault was serious enough, whether it was “asked for” by the victim in some way.  The rates of conviction (with jail time) for men assaulters are somewhere close to 6/1000.  This demonstrates the patriarchal structure we live in as women.  That is to say, most of the time, men are making the choice about how assaulters will be punished.  Yet another man in power (and even worse so, with a microphone that millions will hear his words from) spoke to trivialize the severity of sexual abuse and assault.

Minnie Driver is quoted saying “I honestly think that until we get on the same page, you can’t tell a woman about their abuse. A man cannot do that. No one can. It is so individual and so personal, it’s galling when a powerful man steps up and starts dictating the terms, whether he intends it or not.”

Second, Damon is speaking to the #metoo movement, where all women who have been assaulted/raped/harrassed are included.  By stating guidelines of severity, he is also saying that some sexual assaults are “lesser.”  A victim of a “lesser assault” may not feel like her experience and story “counts.”  This goes against the very cause we are looking to bring awareness to.  The #metoo movement is for all women who have experienced sexual violence.  This club, however we don’t want to belong to it, includes all.  It is a safe place for women to speak their truth boldly.  By having a male break down categories, he was divisive.

Damon also is quoted as saying “We’re in this watershed moment, and it’s great, but I think one thing that’s not being talked about is… the preponderance of men I’ve worked with who don’t do this kind of thing.”

*Blink*  Well, let’s stand up and cheer for all the men who are NOT (and haven’t ever) sexually harrassed, abused or assaulted women.  In fact, all of you who haven’t done that, please stand up.  Nobody?  Right.  That’s the point.  Even the most upstanding male friends have at one point made an unwanted sexually charged comment (action) towards a woman.  This is the culture we are in.  In addition, women are supposed to recognize all the men who haven’t committed sexual violence against them?  Really?? Come on, now.

Third, Minnie Driver states Damon’s lack of ability to speak to this issue eloquently by saying men “simply cannot understand what abuse is like on a daily level” and should not, therefore, attempt to differentiate or explain sexual misconduct against women.   Driver continues with this truth bomb: “Gosh it’s so interesting (profoundly unsurprising) how men with all these opinions about women’s differentiation between sexual misconduct, assault and rape reveal themselves to be utterly tone deaf and as a result, systemically part of the problem.” This is yet another case of “mansplaining” to women.  As if we don’t know about the various ways we experience sexual violence.

She added: “There is no hierarchy of abuse – that if a woman is raped [it] is much worse than if a woman has a penis exposed to her that she didn’t want or ask for … you cannot tell those women that one is supposed to feel worse than the other.

“And it certainly can’t be prescribed by a man. The idea of tone-deafness is the idea there [is] no equivalency. How about it’s all fucking wrong and it’s all bad, and until you start seeing it under one umbrella it’s not your job to compartmentalize or judge what is worse and what is not. Let women do the speaking up right now. The time right now is for men just to listen and not have an opinion about it for once.”

Fourth, at this point,  the only productive thing men can do is to be quiet OR unequivocally support the #metoo movement.  The guy I was talking to stated that this was divisive and limiting of potential allies who wanted to be able to ask questions about the movement.  The issue, though, is black and white.  You are either against all sexual violence, or you aren’t.  In addition, we really aren’t concerned about bringing men on board at this point.  The effort is to get women’s voices out there, survivor’s voices.  We are rallying behind a common story, the abuse of men against women. When we live in a world where men are doing most of the talking, most of the legislating, most of the powerful positions, it is TIME for us to speak and men to listen.

Driver says “In the same stereotypical way that we see women being supportive of men in their endeavors,” she said, “I feel that’s what women need of men in this moment. They need men to lean on and not question.

Fifth, Damon spoke to the idea that because Louis C.K. (who admitted copablity to sexual abuse due to a differential of power).  “I don’t know Louis C.K.. I’ve never met him. I’m a fan of his, but I don’t imagine he’s going to do those things again. You know what I mean? I imagine the price that he’s paid at this point is so beyond anything that he…” And he trails off.  What price has he paid?  Public humilation for what he did?  The inability to work in the public eye (which is yet to be seen)?  Why is C.K.’s repercussion somehow the concern?  With the majority of sexual abusers not getting any charges brought up against them, and a large majority of those who are charged not getting any consequences, the public’s view of C.K. (Cosby, Weinstein, Franken, et all.)

Driver goes on to say “Men can rally and they can support, but I don’t think its appropriate, per se, for men to have an opinion about how women should be metabolizing abuse. Ever.”

Sixth, Damon is not the reliable voice on this issue.  In 2004, a reporter started to look into Weinstein’s sexual exploits, Damon allegedly called the reporter to vouch for Weinstein and try to kill the story. He also knew about Weinstein’s sexual harrasment of Gweneth Paltrow and continued to work with him.  Thus, his reliablity is increbily suspect.

Now, it must be said, this guy I was speaking to IS supportive of the #metoo movement and stands on firm moral ground regarding sexual abuse.  He was surprised to hear about the differential of power always leaning towards men.  Women are taught to have their phones out when walking around at night, with their keys in their other hand.  We are taught how to dress, even dress codes in most organizations are written BY men.  Rape culture is everywhere.

Alyssa Milano says this: “I have been a victim of each component of the sexual assault spectrum of which you speak. They all hurt. And they are all connected to a patriarchy intertwined with normalized, accepted–even welcomed– misogyny… We are not outraged because someone grabbed our asses in a picture. We are outraged because we were made to feel this was normal. We are outraged because we have been gaslighted. We are outraged because we were silenced for so long.”

I get cat-called frequently, with men looking me up and down when I walk by.  We notice these things, but at a certain point, we even gloss over them because they are so common.  This is our daily framework we operate in. I am in the skin of a woman’s body.  This culture is a given for us.

It’s time for men to get woke and hear what we experience every day.

 

church, Spiritual Abuse

Responsibility of the Religious

How do we hold the powerful accountable?

In the current climate of sexual assault revelations, one particular story caught my eye.  Danny Ray Johnson, a pastor and a legislator from Kentucky died by suicide when allegations of sexual assault became public from 2012.

Following up with the post I wrote (I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye), a recent FB post came across my feed that also got me thinking. The question was:

In the midst of sexual harassment allegations, and listening to the women who spoke up about feeling obligated to comply because of the status of the male figure, I can’t help but feel like perhaps mary felt the same way.
What higher status of “man” is there than the god we literally believe in?
Do we worship a god of rape?

The final sentence blew my mind.  My answer is yes, and here’s why.

The power differential between a young girl and an all-powerful god is extreme.  No matter what, I’d imagine that Mary couldn’t say no if she wanted to.

Picture this, the object of your worship comes down in some form and says “Mary, I need to have a baby.  Would you be the mother of that baby?”  I’m imagining this as a human now.  If I found out that, as a young girl, there was an omnipotent being who could take my life in an instant with his smiting wand, and he came down to me in a booming voice and asked me to conceive his child, damn right I’d say yes.

Let’s bring this to practical terms.  In many churches, the pastor IS the voice of god.  (Especially to young people.)  I recall the churches I was a part of, and I recall this perceived spiritual distance and prestige that the leadership had.  They could do no wrong, and whatever they told us to do, we would.  Our parents would also back them up.

So, here comes this 17-year-old girl, in 2012, and her pastor.  The pastor, during a sleepover at the church, molested this girl.  The victim states that she thought of her pastor as a “second dad,” giving him emotional access to her.  She brought a case against the pastor, which was later closed (under shady circumstances). Recently the abuse came out in the media, and the pastor subsequently shot himself after an incredibly odd sing-along presser.

This “pastor” called himself Pope, and also had odd statements that conflicted with reality (he created a morgue, as a private citizen at the twin towers on 9-11, for which he got some compensation from PTSD developed from this incident.)

What does this boil down to, and why are Male Pastors so dangerous?

 

They are generally male, and placed in a “father” role.

Female senior pastors are still rare (though becoming more common every day, listed at 9% of positions in the clergy) and thus males continue to hold senior responsibilities and roles in the church body.  Consider the population of church-goers as well.  The pastor is the “head of the church” and men are “head of the family.”  It’s not a big jump to say that pastors are then placed as a father figure to many, especially for the vulnerable and the young.

Take Johnson, again.  This man gained access to this girl by befriending her, and subsequently took advantage at a church sleepover.  Some may ask, “Well, where are the parents?”  To which I’d answer “What sounds safer than a sleepover at a church?”

They often have illusions of grandeur.

Pastors are “set apart” from their congregants in many ways.  They stand in front of their parishioners weekly and interpret the bible for people to listen to.  Often this is the ONLY exposure people will have to the bible, and many take a clergy member’s view as fact.  Imagine if you were perceived to be the sole person in charge of a group’s spiritual well-being.  This gives you a lot of power and control.  As seen in the case of Johnson, he actually took the title of “Pope” (otherwise referred to as “His Holiness.”)

They are not held accountable for their actions, even if they are wrong.  

Putting aside the current rape-apologist culture we live in, Pastors are rarely called to task for mistakes (regardless of severity.) In this example, the Johnson continued to “serve” as the church head for more than 5 years after the assault occurred.  At the presser Johnson held, he literally was sung to by faithful congregants.  The Governor of Kentucky said Johnson was “an embarrassment” but would not call for his resignation from Congress.

Their power is often unchecked, and has no bounds.  In some cases, they are “overseen” by a board of some form, but again, these boards are mostly male as well.  As a result, sexual crimes are not taken seriously.

Cover-ups from the church come from a feeling of shame and guilt.  The embarrassment of having a pastor who isn’t following the law, or the moral obligations he speaks to weekly is too much to bear. Thus, any “indiscretions” are swept under the rug with the hopes they are not found out. In some extreme cases, pastors resign amidst controversy if the rug gets too bumpy from all the dust bunnies the pastors put there.  Rarely are formal charges filed for crimes.

 

Bringing this back to Johnson:

The “pope” dies. If you look on the FB pages that are linked to the press releases, there is a LOT of victim blaming going on.

First, the 17-year-old is listed as a woman.  (Now, she is CURRENTLY of age, but at the time of the assault, was a girl.)  This diminishes the power of the crime he was accused of.  Rape is awful, no matter what (I say this as a survivor myself), but underage abuse and assault is another layer of awful.

Second, there is a LOT of support for the pastor in this situation, and not as much for the sexual assault victim.  The suicide is linked directly to the recent publication of the sexual assault, placing the onus of his death squarely on her shoulders.  100% of sexual assaults are caused by the assaulters.  Subsequent actions as a result of guilt must also be placed squarely on the shoulders of the abuser, not on the person who spoke up.  His death is 100% NOT.HER.FAULT.  However, the outcry of support for him is dauntingly loud.

Bringing this back to Mary:

So, why are these points relevant? Imagine you are Mary, an unread, simple girl who knows of god as an omnipotent being who can create and destroy at will and on a whim.  God, in whatever form, speaks to her and lets her know he’s picked HER to be the mother of his baby.  The bible expresses that she consents, and TADA a fetus is developed.

Let’s look at the verse in question:

Luke 1-26-38. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Breaking that down:

  1. Mary is shocked by the appearance of something clearly more powerful than her. (Don’t be afraid of me, Mary, God thinks you are cool.)
  2. Mary has been deemed worthy by an all-powerful being, (Woah, the creator of the universe has his eye on me, and thinks I’m awesome.)
  3. She is TOLD that she will be the incubator of god’s baby. She will name him Jesus.  (So, she is TOLD what will happen by god. See, no consent here thus far.)
  4. She replies that she is a servant of god, and acquiesces to god’s statement. (Imagine this in the context of a slave owner to a slave.  The owner has ultimate control of her fate, and thus is she ever even able to say no if she wanted to?  I would submit that any consent is suspect at a minimum, and likely not even an option.)

But could she ever actually SAY NO? It’d be like sitting with a nuclear weapon pointed at you and having someone say “hey, would you be my baby mama?” Is it really even a question, from the woman/girl’s perspective? I would humbly submit that the power differential is so extreme that we don’t even have context for it in modern concrete terms.

In concrete terms, the pastor has an incredible amount of power, being the voice and interpreter of god.  In many churches I attended, the leadership complained about the amount of responsibility they held and the inability to fail in any area of their lives.

Surely, pastors should be allowed to be human, they will make mistakes.  But, when they took the job of spiritual leader of the many, they ARE held to a higher standard of morality than the layman.  Abuse of their access and power MUST require that they be held accountable, not just within the church structure (with a public repentance, temporary leave of absence, or resignation) but with a public outcry of accountability within the community (and when appropriate, through the legal system with the full support of the congregation.)

Where does that leave us?

People in power need to use their power effectively and for good, with subsequent and appropriate oversight.

 

 

Uncategorized

The Body Keeps the Score

CW: Rape & Trauma Processing

Recently I’ve been faced with a health challenge that is draining my physical reserves.  The cell phone battery of my body charges to an unpredictable level… when I wake up, usual daily chores/activities are taking everything for me to get through.  Often even walking upstairs causes me to need to lie down for a bit.

This lack of autonomy/function in my body has caused me to have increased flashbacks as of late.  My heart is already racing from basic activity, so it doesn’t take much for my mind to jump into a PTSD moment.  Something as simple as my child accidentally scaring me, or even the sound of a male voice can fast-forward my memories into trauma.

Flashbacks aren’t new to the survivor, and I’ve certainly had them before, but the flavor of these have been particularly intense.  During the actual assault, I did what many people do in traumatic events, disassociated.  I recall leaving my body behind and watching from above.  In the actual moments, I don’t recall feeling pain, as my body protected me from the physical trauma by disconnecting my body from my brain.  However, in the past month, my flashbacks have incorporated split seconds of “pain memories.”

The first time I remember feeling actual pain was in the hospital after the assault.  I was numb, and I don’t actually know how I got there (obviously I drove, but I don’t remember the act of getting there).   I looked down as I stood on the collection paper, and saw blood, and a lot of it.  In that moment, I started to “wake up” and realize what I had seen wasn’t a movie, but rather something that happened TO me.

My body told the tale that my mind protected me from.

Very quickly, though, my brain shut down those pain feelings… and filed them.  Until just recently.

The lack of autonomy that I feel in a body that is not at its best is wildly triggering.  I sit in therapy trying to hear what she’s saying… at the same time as I hear voices in the foyer that are male and try to manage the flashes that happen.  When I’m alone at home, it’s even harder as my mind spins on the possibilities of what “could” happen. I check the doors, make sure they are all locked and crawl into bed and wait for the moment to pass.  Sometimes it passes quickly, but more often than not it lasts for what feels like an eternity.

PTSD is a bitch.

Process

Same office, different hour.

Once (sometimes twice) a week I walk into a room where I don’t have to speak French to talk about trauma or “not trauma.”  I can walk in and speak about whatever I want, and know that I can be understood.

At times, that is the most freeing experience ever, and at times the most frustrating as I can’t hide anything.  I can’t hide my microexpressions, my breathing, nothing.

Trauma is isolating. Survivors are isolated from the world, from non-survivors, and from each other.  We are on an island.  I don’t get to therapy early because I don’t want to sit there in the waiting room and see other trauma survivors and not talk to them.  It’s already so isolating.  I don’t even look at anyone in the eyes in the office because I know that they have a story I can relate to, but I’ll never know it.  It’s worse to be surrounded by them, and know that you can never know.  Being aware these are your people, and you’ll never know them, it’s incredibly hard.

It’s worse to be lonely, than alone.

One day when I walked into Jess’s office there were drawings left over from the previous hour, another client… a drawing of a spider, on pink cardstock… with the words “fuck u.”  I saw that and just got them.  I got IT.  Sometimes that’s just how we deal.  We sometimes feel like we are just balloons floating around the world that doesn’t get it.

For me, I often have/had to approach the world with a “fuck u” attitude.  You think I can’t make it? Well, fuck you.  You think I need to trust everyone?  Fuck that and fuck you. (And so on.)  The Survivor’s Guide to Life is defense AND offense.

This little glimmer of the Fuck U spider was a moment of the humanity of someone else battling their own war.  Jess cut it out for me, and I have it in my wallet, to remind me that even though I don’t see them, somewhere out there, there is someone out there who gets it.

Over time, I’ve formed a music playlist that has been my go-to source of inspiration, and often play it in therapy.  I shared it with Jess and she asked if she could share this list with another one of her other clients.  Music is a huge part of my soul, and to pass it to another going through trauma was a gift I was thankful to share.  It gave me comfort to know that the notes that I curated into this list were being given to another.  Eventually, the idea was floated to connect the two of us. This person had no name, it’s like they weren’t real.

Until they were.

 

I got an email in my inbox, from the same office… different hour.

Subject line: Insert Awkward Subject Line Here.

Right then I knew, Hannah was good people.  Right off the cuff she was snarky, fun, and made fun of the therapeutic process, as we hardcore PTSD clients are prone to do. (It’s a coping strategy, don’t judge.)  Within days we developed a good rapport where we were able to express some of our challenges (what brought us to our hour) with ease.  It was amazing to be able to not only talk about those challenges without needing to interpret why xyz might be complex for us, but also knowing Jess allowed us to understand how that expression might play out in the hour.

My therapist offered a bridge between our two islands.

Suddenly, I wasn’t quite so alone.

Uncategorized

Fear

Fear: an unpleasant emotion or thought that you have when you are frightened or worried by something dangerouspainful, or bad that is happening or might happen:

In Star Trek Voyager (yup, I’m a nerd!) Captain Janeway is battling a character that is the literal embodiment of Fear, in this case, a clown.  She is negotiating with Fear to release several hostages, and this quote comes from her lips:

“I’ve known fear. It’s a very healthy thing, most of the time. You warn us of danger, remind us of our limits, protect us from carelessness. I’ve learned to trust fear.”

As someone who grew up surrounded by trauma, encountering abusive people and scenarios from a young age throughout my young adult life, fear was a familiar feeling.  The longer I lived, the more of a foundation fear built of my eventual psychological construct.

What became different and what may resonate with other trauma survivors, is that though fear built my foundation, I was unable disallowed to head its warnings.  Fear would tell me that someone was dangerous emotionally, but I would need to use them to get where I needed to go.  Fear would tell me about how stairwells were dangerous places, but unless I walked through them to get to class I wouldn’t be able to graduate college.  Fear would tell me that I needed to stay with this partner because without them, maybe I would never find someone who would see me as anything other than broken.

If one sits down with a trauma survivor and attempts to logic them through why they shouldn’t fear (a stairwell when they have been raped in one) (people taking notes when information has been used against them in the past) (providers when helpers have abused their power) (the church when they have spiritually/emotionally abused them) (the male voice outside the window that sounds just like ‘him’) (et all) they will fail gloriously.  We’ve learned to trust fear, to a fault.

It’s impossible to bring people into our world, without them truly sharing our experience.  This can cause us to form these inner worlds of fear, no one can understand, why attempt to explain?

We see danger everywhere, and it is all in our minds.

And it’s real to us.

 

Process

Brokenness

Broken

a :damaged or altered by or as if by breaking 
:having undergone or been subjected to fracture 
:not working properly 
:disrupted by change
:made weak or infirm 
:subdued completely (a broken heart/broken spirit)
:cut off 
:imperfectly spoken or written
: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.
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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.ALONE.
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.
someone WHO.KNEW.BETTER.
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.
Time passed.
Days.
Years.
Minutes.
Seconds.
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.

Broken

a: damaged or altered by or as if by breaking 
bhaving undergone or been subjected to fracture 
cnot working properly 
ddisrupted by change
emade weak or infirm 
fsubdued completely (a broken heart/broken spirit)
gcut off 
himperfectly spoken or written
inot complete or full 
e3594e608b8a8ad58cca8201613eb1df--vikings--vikings-lagerthaI 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.