Before we begin:
This is Part 4 of my series: Words From a Decade, my story of trauma and recovery in my own words from the past decade. To start at the beginning, Part 1, 2010 & 2011
In 2016 & 2017, I liberated myself from interpersonal dynamics that were keeping me from healing. I started taking better care of myself and regaining my autonomy. I was diagnosed with PTSD and started treatment. I came to terms with many realities that I had been avoiding. I moved away from my college town and reclaimed independence.
Once again, trigger/content warnings include: rape/sexual abuse, verbal/emotional abuse, self harm, substance abuse/overdose. Take care of yourself first.
Thank you for being here.
In the beginning of 2016, I was still convinced I could change my life and eliminate my anxiety by altering my behaviors instead of processing my trauma or ending relationships that were harming me. I started working out and dieting once again, which seemed to help at the time. I was getting sucked deeper and deeper into my relationship that was only getting less healthy. Without boundaries, I had made myself once again a martyr, trying to help someone by being indispensable to their every need. I was always available and ready to serve, without expressing my own needs. I was complicit in behavior that actively harmed me because I just couldn’t bear to have confrontation. I was constantly anxious. My chronic eczema was at an all time worse. I didn’t understand that I deserved to be with someone that made me feel safe, heard, seen, and loved. I didn’t quite know how to give myself those things. I just didn’t want to be alone, so I settled for someone that wasn’t right for me. And I had let it go on for years.
April 7th, 2016
“weak, he says, my love for him is weak
in a tone cold but strong, a slight edge of desperation
his voice is kept low but his eyes are screaming
I’m ready for this, the insults, but deep down they sting
all the love I gave
the care and attention
the genuine desire for symbiosis and health
both for him and me
always there when the world was too much for him
trying to make him see the joy, the hope
wishing the world was softer
but it’s not
so I had to be.
but not anymore
pushed off the edge –
I fought back
for what appears to be the first fucking time.
because I’m not shallow
I’m not a terrible girlfriend
my words are not lies.
I broke our relationship because it could not heal successfully if we tried to recklessly mend it together.
what would be perceived as commitment would be an attachment fueled by destruction.
I can only forgive so much before I start to lose my sense of what I’m forgiving,
an accident or a way of being?
I’ve been through too much
-which he’s never understood
to be told I’m weak.
so I jumped from the fragile cliff he pushed me to
and I may be falling
but what feels like fear is only the beginning of freedom”
One day, I couldn’t be that person anymore. With the support of close friends, I finally stood up for myself and was NOT there when he needed me. They didn’t let me violate my own boundaries. Because of this, he called me names and denied I ever loved him. I was terrified of his volatility and couldn’t believe our relationship had come to such a horrific ending. I had discovered the pattern I was living out again, one where I let the needs of others control me and make me live for them instead of me.
With the support of good friends, I rose from the backlash of our terrible ending and managed to keep going. It was my last trimester of college and I had a 40 hour internship on top of a part time job. Despite this, after leaving him I once again had that sensation of pure freedom from 2013, of no longer being in a cage, of feeling YOUNG and able to live for myself.
June 4th, 2016
“i’m so proud of myself for going through this gnarly period of my life and working my ass off and not giving in to my escapist tendencies very often. i’ve been working through all my shit with music and writing and lots of thinking and even a little crying. and things get dark, but i’ve been so in tune with myself that i can work through the darkness and struggles and come out more confident in the strides i’m making than ever before. i’m not running away, i’m facing things head on. i’m telling people what’s going on and i’m not ashamed to ask for help. i trust myself to seek what and who are good for me. i feel my inner stability keeping me sane. i feel whole. i feel the ability to love deeply without throwing away my own self care. finally, finding my own power.”
Clearly I was feeling more optimistic. I was starting to realize I needed to find the tools to take care of myself. My eczema was out of control and all the steroid creams weren’t working. I was constantly itching with open wounds that stung every time I moved. I learned to stop looking at myself in the mirror because the dark circles and crusted eyelids were too much to bear. It was time to take control of the situation and get some help. I started an elimination diet to help determine my symptoms. At 21, I stopped drinking for several weeks and ate a highly restrictive diet. I went backpacking for the first time. I felt a sense of control over how I felt physically and mentally, and it was intoxicating.
September 29, 2016
“this is the pit in my stomach that develops when i have another god damn PTSD dream about him trying to kill me. always running. never fast enough. dreams take a rest but they come back. my heart feels swollen. i remember the feeling of pretending. i remember forgetting how to feel at all. i remember my friends’ concerned faces. i remember my parents’ terror and disbelief. the pit in my stomach is dark and it remembers. i wish i could kiss it and tuck it into a warm bed. i hate him. i love me. i will own my darkness. i will be the light that shines. i will still tell girls to leave their abusive boyfriends in my dreams, even if it gets me killed. again. deep breath.”
As always, the highs of triumph faded away and I was left with the trauma I still hadn’t been able to face. I would go through cycles of epic highs were I thought I’d never feel bad ever again, and then I’d have a flashback or nightmare and be so triggered I’d think I’d never be okay. I felt completely out of control, at the mercy of my mind and frustrated at my inability to figure out what to do.
December 19th, 2016
“you make me feel safe but when you’re gone i’m still afraid
i hardly trust anyone at my core
i feel like darkness within me lapping at my heartstrings, trying to swim in my veins
it’s weird how feelings envelope you like the ocean
i think the waves from computers are hurting my brain (as i stare at my phone)
the visions of my dreams either soothe me or attack me so i guess it makes sense why i’m so tired but procrastinate sleeping
eventually every substance will make you anxious
there is no escape
i think about my own destroyed purity and innocence and wonder how much he understands
i’d like to think at the end of it all, i’m a better person because of what happened to me
i think about death all the time. i’m so afraid i’ll waste my last days upset about some stupid bullshit or stressed about money.
i don’t want to die young. i’m so afraid of what happens next.
i tried to go to therapy and the lady didn’t show up. it felt like a sign but i rescheduled anyway
don’t you ever wish you could turn off your brain? it’s weird how it’s not possible
i love myself and i’m happy to be alive”
In the end of September, I met someone new and entered into a relationship. But this time it happened slowly. I always held the reservation that the second he showed me ONE red flag, I was done, no questions asked. When Trump was elected I was very mentally unstable, and still engaging with my old coping mechanisms of drinking to numb. But I was committed to taking care of myself. In this piece I think you can see that I was starting to reckon with the trauma I was up against. My symptoms were all over the place and my usual methods of numbing were starting not to work anymore. I knew I needed help but still felt a lack of resources or ability to get what I needed. Despite having loving friends and a really sweet new boyfriend, I still felt alone with the weight of my past.
February 28, 2017
“my mental illness is this weird thing where i feel like i’m too much to handle and fucking crazy and overwhelming and yet not good enough for anyone and small and not special and it’s fucking stupid. i love myself so much and see the merits of my character but somehow it never feels like enough or it’s way to much and i’m fucking pissed at the man that put me in this box for so long and taught my adolescent self this is who you are and this is what you deserve and now it makes everything so hard. i tell myself there’s no going back there’s no changing what happened and you just have to love yourself despite your fucked up mind. but i don’t want to feel like this. sick of this invisible disease following me around everywhere like it’s just dying to get out and make a scene but there’s no where for it to go. it’s stuck in here and i want it gone.”
In early 2017, I was being eaten alive by my PTSD. I started seeing a CBT therapist and opening the floodgates of my memories and mapping my triggers. I wanted to leave behind my old coping mechanisms of running away from my problems and numbing with substances, but without these I felt raw. I started working out a lot and getting really into fitness, pushing myself even when I was exhausted because I knew exercise was good for mental health. I pushed too hard, but at the time I didn’t really know how to sit with my emotions. I’m still figuring it out.
March 4th, 2017
“haven’t seen the sun in the week and nothing’s really wrong yet my heart weighs 1000 pounds and i miss everyone and feel like no one here actually likes me for me but how could they when they don’t even know me. and i want them to know me but then they’ll be scared because i’m so sick and so fucked in the head and i don’t act like it because of my 1000 different coping mechanisms make me act completely different all the time. not like i feel not who i am. breathing literately feels heavy in my chest like i could just sink into this chair through the floor into the mud. i’m supposed to accept this is my heart healing instead of avoiding it but god it fucking sucks. i hate what happened i hate how many times i thought i’ve been in love and how sick they’ve all made me. i hate what that says about my self worth. please come back sun i just want spring emily that’s confident and free and moving forward not stuck in this dark ocean of regret and trauma and low serotonin.”
The dark Olympia winter didn’t help anything I was going through. I was in deep, surrounded by the weight of all the pain I held in my body, but I had no idea where to go next. I didn’t know how to talk to anyone about it, and felt like everyone I knew had an image of who I was and wouldn’t be able to handle seeing the real me. I said a lot of painful things to myself. I really thought I was incurably damaged.
July 24th, 2017
“i never write when things are going well
things are going well. the suffering of the human experience is detached from me a bit. i have 8 days until ill know if im moving to california. in my mind i’m already going. i won’t know anyone and no one will know me. ill build everything from the ground up. “you can’t get better in the same environment where you got sick”. is this why i hate olympia now? did i realize i got sick here too? that G made me sick and N made me sick and i can’t get better when i’m reminded of them all the time? that i need to talk about what they did to me but i can’t? it just feels like time is suffocating here. i’m trapped in the past i’m trapped in the memories i’m trapped in the lives of these people and i don’t know if they even like me or not. i can’t wait to grow and move forward and see who really mattered after all. self love will persevere. self respect will push me forward. i’m so proud of myself and i will not feel bad for saying that because i deserve it.”
By summer, I started to regain hope in the idea of moving and starting over in California. Although my relationship was going really well, I still was coping with way more than anyone saw or knew about. I felt trapped in Olympia without the tools to liberate myself except moving.
August 4th, 2017
“the most powerful thing i’ve learned this year might be: “the only reason this happened to you is that someone chose to do this to you. that’s it. it has nothing to do with you.” i tell myself this over and over and contemplate why i feel like it’s something more. like i’m destined for this suffering. whether or not it’s destiny i think ill do something brilliant with what i’ve been through. i think ill use it to make a change. somehow ill find power in my soft, resilient heart.”
I think this was the point where I was starting to find grace and compassion for myself. I wanted to learn how to love myself even during the bad times and find meaning in my suffering.
September 22nd, 2017
“waiting for the pain to seep in because i’m not going to be with my family forever. won’t have any friends. my parents’ repetition of “you’re not afraid” “you’re so much stronger than me” “i could never do this” just parallels with how alone i am. how do i fill up this week? how do i make sure he doesn’t know where i am? i am annoyed when i wake up from a nightmare to my parents saying good morning but how will i cope when i wake up alone? i am in love with someone who wants to defend me but how will i cope when i realize i’m too far away from him? i will grow used to being alone. i will live and breathe being alone and i will thrive in it. i will love myself more than anyone else and i will defend myself. i will believe in me as much as the future children i feel my heart longing to defend. the innocence. the justice. those values that all feel fake. someday they will come to light. someday i’ll understand.”
Fear and paranoia had become my dominant symtoms, and to deal with it I employed independence. I thought if I didn’t rely on anyone, if I didn’t let myself need anyone, I wouldn’t let anyone touch me. This was written right after I moved to California and my parents were helping me move. I was coming to terms with my decision to be on my own and adopting this fierce independence.
October 18th, 2017
“You’re so strong” is always that compliment people like to throw on me to kindly hint that getting over it is the only thing they know how to support. Watching the pain saturate me, drag me under, is something they can’t figure out how to help with. They are not lifeguards. I am strong enough to swim.
I am strong. I lift heavy things: thoughts, memories. I carry them with me, I hold them at arms length, but I never let them go.
Carrying a heavy weight around every moment of everyday, despite your condition, will make people call you strong. That’s sweet. The pain will only get worse.
I am trying to heal the pain. I am trying to put down my heavy weight. I am trying to trust that I am free of harm. I am trying to trust that these pains are phantom ones. I am trying to accept that my pain has an identifiable cause, and I can be significantly treated. I am trying to put down the weight, or absorb it, letting it in and hugging it and saying “you are a part of me. You are not the whole part”.
Around this time, the #MeToo movement came out and I was suddenly a part of a group of survivors, which was both empowering and brutally sad. I felt more understood but still suffered under the weight of what happened to me. I came to terms with the “strength” I had always been told I possessed was often my capacity to endure and “get over it”, which was something I felt incapable of now. It was my burden to bear, and I was learning that there was no quick fix.
December 7th, 2017
“Being a survivor is endless cycles of nonlinear growth. Sometime i feel empowered now, i see the puzzle pieces for what they are, parts of a whole. And then sometimes I wake up after some false sleep cycle filled with nightmares of him killing me and it feels like my open future was sharply ended. I play party games with the intention of silly fun and get triggered at every turn. i want to live in the woods where none of this matters. I want to marry the man who treats women like people and escape society with him. I want to make meaning of this trauma without the heavy weight on my chest.
“Face your fears” they say. Throw the boiling water over your head, exposure therapy. I hate what he taught me. I hate all my memories of him. I hate that he still breathes the air i do, wasting space. I hate that somewhere inside of his sickness is a human, worthy of love, worthy of empathy. My empathy. I used so much i thought i gave it away. Is this my purpose, to be so miserable, so empathetic? To feel everyones pain and blame myself for it? To let someone kill me because they claim to love me? I’m terrified that he might think of me even 1/10th of the amount i think of him. I hate that it’s all the time, that my dreams prove i think of him all the time. I wish he was dead and i wouldnt have to convince myself when i wake up that my dreams aren’t real.”
This is what it felt like to live with what I now know is complex PTSD (CPTSD). Ending the patterns of numbing and escaping left me facing the huge tsunami of trauma that I had been ignoring for years. And it was really hard. I felt triggered all the time, at the most unfavorable times. It was hard to focus at work and my memory played tricks on me. I was bitter and angry at him for doing this to me. I was greiving how much life I’d wasted on him. The world felt dark with all the ways I wished it was different. But I had left behind the ways I destroyed myself in order to cope with my pain. I was learning compassion. I was teaching myself how to care for myself, from the ground up.
Part 5, 2018 & 2019 will be posted 12/28/19. Thank you for reading!