If I were to sum up “trauma” in a word…I’d say “life-altering” is a pretty good one to use. It’s something that causes great harm in whatever way the abuse entails, and maybe the worst harm is the harm done to the victim’s perspective of reality.
When I was growing up, I understood “trauma” from the police/hospital dramas mother used to like, and let us watch. The people in the trauma care unit were often so horribly injured it was a wonder how they were even still alive. By the time I’ve written this, Hurricane Harvey had left Texas in a flooded and otherwise devastated state. All of Texas were traumatized; they’ll probably never see rain the same way again (and as a rain-lover, this realization hurts).
Some of us like to make fun of things like trauma and PTSD. I’ve heard all the jokes, seen all the memes. I never really liked certain terms like “triggered” anyways, so it wasn’t too much of a personal loss. I actually wondered whether or not it was a valid comment (after I got past the feelings of invalidation), from the way just about everyone, if not, in fact, everyone, is behaving to some degree like me: someone who actually has C-PTSD.
“Triggered” in particular is an interesting case: it refers to something in the present bringing up a traumatic memory. It could be an emotional reaction (eg. anger, fear, sadness, numbness), a physical reaction (eg. pain, nausea, tension, arousal), or a mental reaction (eg. temporary amnesia, dissociation, nightmares, flashbacks). It’s under/overreacting to something in the present because of what it brings up from the past, like in the tidal wave analogy. If we don’t take a moment to calm down, and give ourselves a reality check, we’ll get swept away in that flood.
I had the thought to write a study on how that’s happening to the world now. There’s a lot less calming oneself back to reality, and a lot more getting swept away by whatever emotions, beliefs, prejudice, or resentment driving the behavior. Whether it’s because they’re actually victimized, or just have a victim-mentality is not always clear. Does it even matter at this point? Could they even know for themselves if they weren’t always in the fray, looking/waiting for a fight? Either way, it seems to be a problem that’s getting worse faster than its getting better.
On that note, I wanted to talk about re-traumatizing (or re-victimizing) experiences. Just recently, I’d taken into account just how I’ve been re-traumatized by people who were supposed to care about me, supposed to protect me, supposed to serve justice on my behalf…and for whatever reason didn’t. In that moment when I realized that what they did/didn’t do was re-traumatizing, I realized what that meant: their actions repeated the lessons my trauma taught me.
When those people I put my trust in came to reject me (or slowly break contact), I relearned those things like, “I’m broken. I’m too broken to love. No one can or will love me. Love is superficial and temporary. Nobody keeps their promises to me. Friendship is fake. Friends are just enemies I haven’t made yet. Outsiders can’t be trusted.”
When father-figures rejected me, I relearned, “Fathers are liars. They never protect me. They never mean anything they say. They’re cowards. They’re cowards who hide behind their bullying wives. I’m bad for marriages. I’ll always be the bad one. I’ll always be the temptation.”
When creeps would hit on me, or people I’d think were nice would want nothing to do with me, I relearned, “I’m filthy. I’m diseased. I bring out the worst in people. No matter what I do, I’ll always be the dirty slut everyone wants a piece of, and no one wants to love.”
When people in the Church (victim-assistance, clergy, and peers) or the state (police) led me around in circles, constantly questioned me about anything that might be “inconsistent” with my reports, and put all this pressure on me only to ultimately fail to serve justice…I relearned, “No one believes me. No one cares about what happened me. Justice doesn’t exist. Everyone turns a blind eye to evil. Even God; God doesn’t care what happened to me. Catholics don’t care. Catholics are just cruel, abusive people hiding their ugly natures behind masks of devotion. Faith is superficial. It won’t save the world.”
It doesn’t even have to be on a personal level: when I’d hear all this stuff about racism in the news, especially stuff about “white privilege”, I relearned, “I’ll always be taken at face value, like my Asian blood doesn’t count, like my own efforts towards love, understanding, and humility doesn’t count, like my own hardships and trauma doesn’t count. I’ll always be too ‘pale’, too ‘blonde’, and now too ‘privileged’ to count as anything. Instead, I’ll always be seen as the enemy. No one’s going to see me for who I am.”
Maybe you related with any of that. Maybe you didn’t. Either way, these are the things I relearned, things my trauma already taught me. It’s no wonder I’ve gone back to being alone and unstable, distrusting of even my closest friends who did stay, who do love me. It’s understandable how pessimistic and guarded and sad and angry I am. Everything is either amplified, or deadpan; no in-between. No balance.
In my C-PTSD workbook, it says that “C-PTSD is a relational trauma; in other words, it’s harm caused by one person to another.” It emphasizes the need of trusting relationships to help mend the harm others have done. It’s from them that we learn something better, something closer to reality than all those things our trauma taught us. My closest friend constantly encouraged, still encourages, me to make friends. He told me his fear for me is that I’d accept those lessons trauma and abuse taught me over the the better reality.
Those same people did teach me those better things at first. Even as I was constantly going back and forth with the police, met more indifferent and really horrible officers than kind ones with integrity, I learned justice could happen. Even as a lot of them had their red flags I ignored, those people I befriended taught me that I can be loved as a friend, have people I can look to for support. Even as they likewise had red-flags, the men I looked up to as fathers taught me I could have fatherly love, that sweet, safe love of a father to his daughter.
Looking at all these nice things I learned, and knowing they were taken back, ripped from my notes…really hurts. When those pages, those lessons were ripped away, the old entries of what trauma taught me were right there. It’s hard to even turn the page over them, and keep writing, keep learning. Even in this, I relearned, “What’s the point? Nothing will change. I’ll always be alone. I’ll always be an orphan. I’ll never have a family. I’ll never have friends I can be myself around. No one will ever love me. I’ll only be as good as I am healthy, useful, and otherwise socially acceptable. I can’t show my true self. I’ll never be free of those things I learned to do to cope. It’s hopeless. I’m in Hell.”
Those few friends who still stayed, who I still allow in my life…they still teach me those things the others taught me, and even better things. I’m still just counting the days, the minutes, the seconds until they reject me, too. All that rejection and disappointment hurt me, traumatized me…maybe as bad as the first traumas have.
Realizing this helps me understand a bit more about what’s going on, and what I should do. I’m very much back to square one. My notebook is thinner than it was before. That’s okay. I’ll write something better in place of the things that were ripped out and written over it, together with these few good people that stayed. I don’t know how long they’ll stay. I don’t know what they’ll end up meaning to me, if anything.
At least I’m more aware. There were signs before, and I didn’t properly acknowledge it; when I noticed, I got sad and blamed myself, tried to fix it, not putting the responsibility on the ones it belonged to. Some of it was due to not understanding healthy things like boundaries or over-idealizing people. I don’t have those same problems. I’m stronger now. I know better what to do, what not to do, what to look for. I’m safer now. I’m better protected.
There’s still hope.
There’s still hope.
There’s still hope.