TRIGGER WARNING: This post explore mental, emotional and sexual trauma and its impacts on relationships with self and others. Discretion is advised.
“I have realized that the moon-Buddy Wakefield
did not have to be full for us to love it.
That we are not tragedies
stranded here beneath it.”
Friends. Today, I come to you to discuss what has probably been the heaviest of endeavors of 2019. My partner came in to this room three times, while I prepared to write this one, and I had not yet started. I don’t know why these topics are so hard for me to explore. But I suppose I am about to find out. I’m going to get a little jumbly, and it is likely that I will jump around. I don’t know how else to do this. Here we go: Trust. Self-love. Closeness.
I have never been a touchy feely sort of person. I don’t recall ever being the kind of person who loves hugging. Maybe I was when i was a child, but if that is so, I have no recollection. I have, however, always considered myself a very trusting individual. It has only come to my very recent attention that, in fact, I trust no one. I don’t know how that came to be, but it is something I am looking at these days.
When I started writing this, I had planned to write about intimacy. But here is the thing. The word intimacy is something I am not yet comfortable even saying, and I found that in order for me to even write this post, I had to look at the most fitting synonym for the word. The word intimacy makes me cringe. I feel a very visceral bodily reaction to it, and I want to hide my body in a burlap sack and disappear into the darkness like some old maid from a movie based in the Dark Ages. I get chills. I do not like it. I get mad about not liking it. Intimacy. The simple of act of opening oneself to another in a way that exposes the realest version of who they are. Intimacy is not all about physical touch (though sometimes it can be). Intimacy is connection. Intimacy is closeness. It is deliberate closeness with a focus on joining in some way. It includes things like trust, and understanding.
I am a survivor. I have never not seen myself as a survivor. But the word survivor does not ever make me feel like less of a “victim”. I do that. I change my perspective on that. A title means nothing if you don’t own it. Because what is surviving if you’re not trying to live, and love, and trust, and be able to respect your own skin again?
When I met my partner, I thought I was fine. Our story is beautiful and cute, and honestly movie worthy. When we met, neither of us were looking for each other. He had just ended a long term relationship and I had been assaulted about a month beforehand. Weird timing, but it was meant for us. We connected in a way that is really not common anymore. We continued to hang out with little expectation. We found common threads, and all it was was friendship. He became someone I felt safe around. He showed me early on that I could trust him. He was the first person following my assault that was new to me who had no expectations of me. He probably will never truly understand the importance of that.
I have always been really upfront with him about my experiences and the things that have happened. I did that, initially, because in my eyes “he deserved to be aware of what he was getting into–about how damaged I was”. He was appreciative of my opening up to him. But it wasn’t so he could prepare himself emotionally. I don’t know if either of us realized it at the time, but it built trust. It built a closeness between us that allowed for us to see deeper into one another’s hearts and hurts. He has never once said that I am damaged individual. He understands that I have simply been hurt and asked to face challenges that many others have not. He is patient with me, and supportive. He is able to see me in a light that I am sometimes unable to see myself in. I am very well aware of how fortunate I am to have him in my life and I recognize that not everyone has this gift in their own lives. But that is why I want to discuss what is next.
Sometimes, when we do not have people or supports in our lives who can fully understand what has happened and what we have survived in our lives, we do not feel as though we are capable of connection. We feel as though there is a barrier always standing in our way. No matter how hard we try to push this barrier down, it stands there firm, in its power as a reminder that we “are not like everyone else”. It feels as though there is a mark on our physical being, a stamp indicating that not only are we fragile, but we have been declared as undesirable. That there is something wrong enough with us that we will never be able to form a close bond with anyone again. That in turn is what blocks trust. Trust in others and trust in ourselves. It destroys our ability to love ourselves again. We feel dirty, and unworthy. There is so much shame and so much guilt that comes along with this label. But what hurts most is that this label is silent. We disguise it by trying to disappear. Take attention off of who we are. Some of us self-medicate. Sometimes we feel as though nothing we do in life will ever be enough.
Speaking from my experiences, I can say I have come a long way. But in the days, years, and months following my abuse, and my assault I found it impossible not to categorize myself as a non-human. It was not out of choice, it was just what I was used to. That my body was meant to be an experience, some conquest for an angry man who probably has suffered his own hurts. That I would never hold any permanence in anyone’s life. That I could never exist as anything more than a tool to allow for temporary satisfaction, be it physically or emotionally. I didn’t feel like I deserved anything good in life. Like my skin was just a waste, and that my intellect, and love and courage were insignificant. That I had nothing to offer and that anyone who would try to engage in a closeness with me, would be risking their own being. I felt like I would become someone’s project. That I would exhaust them. That I was unlovable. My brain had gaping holes in it, with large gaps in time, and distorted thoughts.
It took years of therapy to re-claim myself. It has taken me a long long time to stop hating myself. It has taken me a long time to allow myself to grow into the little sprout of life I have become. I have good days. I have bad days. But one thing has never changed. On even my worst days, I chose to trust myself. Whenever I have been in the thick of my depression, I have found that the only person who really knows what I need is me. And you know what? The same goes for you. You are the expert in you. No one gets to tell you otherwise.
I used to believe that I had to forgive myself for my own traumas. But I had it wrong. I have only ever had to forgive myself for not allowing myself whatever I needed to heal right when I needed it.
We are not responsible for the pain the others have brought unto us. Read it again. It is not your fault.
Whatever it is, it is not your fault. I think what is most difficult is believing that. What is more difficult than believing that is allowing ourselves to trust who we are and what we need. Because if you are a survivor, there was a long time where others got to decide that for you. Your power was taken away from you.
Choosing to trust yourself is allowing yourself to take that power back. And you deserve that.
Trusting yourself. It is the first step in being able to build connection with someone else. It is the first step in understanding that you get to make decisions. You can decide what you wear. You can decide what to eat, and who gets to live within the synapses of your brain.
Trusting comes in parts. But I am a firm believer that if you are not in full support of trusting your own self, you might not be ready to give some of the trust that is leftover to others.
I want to give you an image. You are standing in a field. It is flat land, and it is beautiful. You look into the palms of your hands and notice three little seeds. You decide to plant these little seeds. You don’t know what plant will come from them, but you do it anyway. You return to this spot every day to care for these seeds. They start to sprout and reach for the sun. One day, you cannot make it to the field, so you ask the neighbor and they agree. You ask them again. Then they start offering, they don’t mind. Then they start going without asking. When you return to your field, you find your sprouts wilted and dried up. You ask the neighbor what happened and they report to you that they have done everything as you asked. When you start reflecting on your broken garden, you realize, the only difference on these days was that YOU weren’t the one to care for them. Perhaps then, the neighbor didn’t know how much to water your plants, or how much light to give them. Maybe they just made decisions based on what they thought would be best for the plants. Maybe they had ulterior motives. Either way, the plants are gone. There is nothing you can do about it now. But you can plant new ones. The moral being: your garden can never grow the way you need it to if you aren’t the one watering it.
This is what happens when we do not trust ourselves. We lose our fields. We lose ourselves. Others take over the gardens. Plants die and we will never have that exact plant back again. This is what happens with trauma and abuse.
You are the only one that is always going to show up for you in the way that you need. But the key is this: You need to let you do it. This can feel terrifying after trauma and abuse. But to do so is self-love. When you do this, you are not only helping yourself build trust in you, but you are demonstrating to others what they can and cannot do when you claim your part of the picture.
After my traumas, I did not know myself anymore. I couldn’t let myself into my own head for fear that I would not recognize what was in there. When I finally did, I was right. I didn’t recognize anything. So I had to do some digging. I found old chests with cobwebs on them full of memories and photos and things I had long forgotten. I found old clothes that did not fit anymore. I had to use a flashlight to find my way, for it was far too dark in the crawlspaces in my brain. I grabbed a broom and got to work. I got rid of the dust and started to transform the space again. I got rid of clothes that no longer fit. I reorganized. I filed away the the old papers and photos. I downsized. I locked the doors and opened the blinds. I made it mine again.
Those doors stayed locked though. Eventually I got so comfortable in my space, that I wouldn’t let ANYONE in. In fact, I put bars on the windows, and a deadbolt on the door and installed a high security alarm system with motion sensors and heavy artillery. I wasn’t ready for anyone else. I had work to do.
I spent time working in this space. Ensuring that I was addressing everything I had left untouched. Leaving no stone unturned. Now was the time to start to reconnect and become close with myself again. I re-acquainted with myself, learning all my new favorites, asking myself the hard questions, caring for myself. Giving myself time to learn that I am trustworthy. That I would never let anyone into this holy territory again. This, my sacred space, a nest for nurturing and working through. Learning my softness.
When I met my partner, it’s true, we worked together to build our trust in one another. It happened slowly. Eventually, I gave him the passcode to my security system. We have not gone without challenges. He has had to learn my softness. He has had to work hard alongside with me. There are days where I still have a bar or two on the window, and the I remember he is safe and he can come back in. What helps, is constantly discussing and checking in with one another. When something isn’t right, we discuss it. Sometimes, we lose sleep discussing it. But one night of lost sleep is worth an eternity of nights next to him. I have had to work harder on allowing space for him in my sacred little attic brain.
The reason I bring all of this to the table tonight, is in hopes that as the reader, you will recognize that healing from trauma and working toward intimacy and closeness and self-love is not linear. This journey has been one with ebs and flows and it sometimes feels like work more than I would care to admit. I had to readjust my thoughts around what survival meant. Around what self-love, trust, and closeness all mean in relation to my experiences and what I am capable of doing and expanding into for RIGHT now. Because this will change.
In five years, I may be in a better place for allowing people in. In five years, I may be living in a cottage on a mountain with my partner and my dog and you may never hear from me again. I’m not even kidding. It can be that extreme when trauma has been a part of your life. Trying to explain it to people feels like a hopeless endeavor. You don’t need to explain it to everyone. But if you feel up to it, sometimes explaining it to the person who knocks on your door every day, rain or shine, can allow for little sprouts of trust to build. I am not saying to let others be in control for your garden. I am saying, show others how to care for your garden when they show up time and time again. I am not saying let people into your attic brain immediately. I am saying, wait and watch to see who continues to show up every day at the same time. This is not testing. This is re-building. This is trusting yourself enough to acknowledge when it is okay to trust someone else.
When I think of trusting myself, I think about listening to what my body needs. Be it soft shirts, or quiet or vegetables, I listen. I don’t ask why, I just give it what it needs. That is building self-trust and self-love. Being so dependable for yourself that you never have to question if you are willing to show up for yourself, you just do it. Our hearts and souls require this of us.
Trusting someone else is choosing to let them see parts of you that you do not show to others, and being willing to take that risk within reason of what you are capable of doing right now. You are not required to do this for anyone. It is a choice. It is important and it is risky and sometimes it can be hurtful. There is no way to know how trusting someone else ends up. But that is why we need to be able to trust ourselves first–so we can choose to let others in when we are ready. It is worth it. And it is possible.
I do not believe in the phrase “love yourself before you love someone else”. It is unrealistic. Loving oneself is an eternal journey. It is an end goal with millions of little actions leading up to it. It is daily practice. It can never be made official. It is not measurable.
Trusting oneself before trusting others is a simple way to re-frame however, because it requires action. It requires measurable milestones. If I am going to go to my therapist to work on mental health issues, I can build my trust in myself by follow through. This leads to self-love, leads to stronger self-connection, leads to understanding of shared experiences, leads to vulnerability. This is the path to intimacy and closeness and healing. When you are able to show up for yourself so deliberately, intentionally and without fail every single time you need to, that you are able to trust your vulnerability in the arms of someone else.
Intimacy (closeness). I still struggle with it. I continue to do this work every day. Intimacy is terrifying. It requires a full-frontal plain-faced view of another person. It can involve cards and tables and throwing them into a pile and presenting them in an authentic way. If we are to do this honestly, we are not arranging cards into neat piles. We are throwing the deck in front of someone and saying “Here it is. I trust myself and my experiences enough to know that whatever you make of this does not change me. I am whole exactly as I am. I am choosing to trust you because I would like to be closer with you and I need you to be aware of what I have experienced as it may have an impact on how I let you in. These cards aren’t here for you to organize, they are only here so we know how to move forward”. That is real intimacy and closeness.
How do you know when you trust yourself? What do you do to ensure that you are maintaining your garden? How will you know when someone else has taken over? How do you actually define, trust, closeness and self-love? What are you doing to grow these seeds? What are you doing to clean out your attic brain? How will you know when it is time to give someone the passcode (keep in mind, this is not always a romantic partner)? How do you show up for yourself every single day?