I'm Sorry I'm Difficult: Dating with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Will trauma and abuse prevent me from finding love?
When I was 9 years old, I was sexually assaulted by someone my family trusted. When I told people, no one believed me. No one did anything about it either, so I just assumed I had done something to deserve it. My body, one that developed a little too early, and my personality-- the kind that had a smart mouth who'd grown up around two older brothers, had clearly done something to ask for it, right? The world's non reaction to my assault told me one thing loud and clear: this was something that just happens to women and then we don't talk about it.
I felt embarrassed for bringing it up at all. I got quiet after that for a very long time. I still do.
Although I never saw the man who violated me again, he continued to send me birthday presents every year until I turned 13-- and then he just stopped. (Oddly enough, this made me feel confused and abandoned.) I still hate my birthday to this day, could never really figure out why. I never put two and two together until writing this. Funny how writing helps bring clarity to things, I guess.
At age 25, I dated a coworker who used to beat me up when we'd get home. I didn't do anything about it--from my perspective, the world had taught me I don't deserve much better than this. He used to use my disability---epilepsy-- against me. One time I had a seizure on an airplane that was so bad they almost had to do an emergency landing.
You're so fucking embarrassing, he told me.
When I finally told our boss what was going on, who, admittedly, was probably not the right person to tell-- I was fired.
He got a promotion but was transferred to a different office.
People get through trauma in a myriad of ways. I've turned to drinking, I've turned to drugs, I've turned to food, online shopping, the internet, being angry, playing victim, being funny, being too loud, being too quiet-- nothing ever really helped. At least not for the long run, until I'd self destruct again, fall into a depressive episode, and just want to fade away.
And that's the thing about trauma, when it happens to you, a little piece of your soul escapes from your body. It's like Peter Pan and his shadow. When you lose it, it's self preservation. You get to numb out a bit, and disassociate from the things you've been through, the things that have happened to you.
It also leaves you with a crippling inability to connect authentically with others. Instead of being human, I feel like I'm playing the role of human every day. I am unable to attach, and when I do so, I don't know how to appropriately. I don't trust and I have no communication skills. I don't know how to form an opinion because, in my perception, every time my opinions were voiced over important topics, they were rejected. I'm irritable, and I vary between rage blackouts and complete apathy. I like to hurt people and withdraw to test them and see if they'll stay.
Essentially, I've never felt safe: and now, everyone else is paying the price for that. I am, despite being bright and shiny on the exterior, majorrrrrrrly fucked up inside. I'm a bulldozer wearing a prom dress. (On my worst days. A lot of days, things are pretty great.) But even in writing this, my main worry is: Oh no, is revealing this gross? Does this make me seem less hot? Will guys who follow me on Instagram still want to jerk off to me?
In an interview with Mic, New York cognitive therapist Chamin Ajjan explains that PTSD is, "an anxiety disorder, and the most common coping mechanism is avoidance. It happens automatically, especially in uncomfortable situations. They are unable to communicate, even with just little things. They've numbed themselves to the extent where they have difficulty experiencing emotion at all, even forming opinions."
For me, this has manifested mostly in romantic relationships. It's why I can't set boundaries, and no, I don't know where I want to go for dinner. I'm never able to tell you what actually bothered me, and I'd rather break up with you than just tell you what it is that I need. I would sooner kill myself (literally actually) than have a serious conversation with you. To me, being in an abusive relationship seems a lot easier than being in a healthy one.
I would rather tell you a hundred lies than tell you one intimate truth- because who knows what will happen if I actually let you see me. Actually, I'd just rather be quiet and let you do the talking. Actually, I'd rather just be whoever it is you want me to be.
It's unclear if I've ever been fully myself with someone.
To be honest, I'm a little worried I might never be "normal." It crept up on me lately- uh oh- this might be for life. After breakup after breakup after breakup, it's still hard for me to open up or reveal even small, basic details of my life. I dated a guy for 6 months once and never let him see my apartment, I recently dated someone and never let him look inside my fridge. But I am learning more about myself each time. It's a process of self-acceptance, it's about not punishing myself and others for things that happened a long time ago-- and maybe that's what's important. Maybe I'm important? (Zoolander voice)
Let go or be dragged, right?
Sometimes I wonder about the people who dated me, who expect me to just be "okay." Like being a vegetarian or getting enough sleep or drinking apple cider vinegar or a tablespoon of coconut oil will somehow make me fine again. Unfortunately, I've tried a lot, and that's not quite how it works.
But I've come to a few conclusions. My past doesn't make me weird, and I don't have to apologize for it. Tbh, "normal" people aren't all that interesting anyway. People who've experienced pain are usually the nicest, most empathetic, and least judgmental people I've ever met. I'm fine being categorized with them. Additionally, I've been through some shitty stuff. It is normal to have a reaction to it. I should maybe stop being hard on myself about that.
In terms of relationships, it's okay to keep my private business private for a while. (Except that I just wrote about it all in an article. LOL, OH WELL!) But I do need to set boundaries as to not be taken advantage of. It's important for me to move emotionally slow. At some point, I will need to let my guard down and let someone in. I'll know when it's the right someone.
If you have PTSD, or are dating someone with PTSD, and want some resources, you can find some here.
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