I do realize that I write about trauma very often. For those who don’t care or don’t connect with it, just leave this space blank in your mind. Move on to something else. Perhaps a nice cup of tea or something.
This time, I want to talk about how insidious the trauma response is.
I’ve been in therapy off and on for more than 35 years. It’s only been within the past ten years that the true root of the issues I face have come to light. I don’t hold it against my previous care teams – anyone who believes that medicine (and mental health in particular) is an exact science does not pay attention – they did their best with what they had to work with.
The reason I bring up the amount of time involved is to help express my utter amazement that, even after all of this time, all of the therapists, all of the alternate methods of dealing cognitively with the trauma, it still rules my daily life. It will eat a situation and I don’t even realize it until much later.
Recently, in the course of my writing and my attempts to maintain friendships in the midst of this damned pandemic (hey, I’m an introvert, but this is too much for even me), I went through a six-month trauma process that has left me feeling like I’ve been poisoned.
It began with something more people are familiar with now than they used to be: I became friends with someone online. Don’t really know who or what they are, but we interacted and those went well. If we weren’t friends in the true sense, I cared deeply for this person’s well-being and enjoyed our interactions very much.
And then, without a word, they disappeared. Some of the people I deal with currently call this “ghosting.” They stopped responding to e-mails and messages. And it went on for almost six months; long enough for me to go through a lot of the grieving process. And I did grieve – this was a person in whom I’d placed an inordinate amount of trust. Probably too much, given the circumstances.
By the end of February, I’d resigned myself to never knowing what happened, how this person was, or whether they were even still alive.
And then, they reappeared.
A cursory explanation of what had transpired for the past few months left no room for “hey, why didn’t you at least respond to my worried e-mails about your condition?” It left no room for a true friendship. I gave them another chance, tried to keep an open mind. I started interacting with them again…and it quickly became apparent that I’d changed a lot in the intervening six months. I had no tolerance for things I’d never allowed myself to notice before in this person.
But that was only what I thought. In reality, I was still open and trusting of this person. I still wanted what I’d believed we had before to become available again. Without my own knowledge, I let trust reenter the relationship. Only to have it betrayed again in a most passive-aggressive fashion.
I can say that now, but at the time, all I knew was pain, anger, and betrayal. I ran away from the situation, slamming shut the gates on anything related to it, and attempting to change my personal behavior patterns so that I wasn’t so reliant on the friendship situation. That took a few weeks.
A few weeks to realize how much trauma had informed the whole of the relationship. All the way back to the beginning, it was a relationship based on our shared experiences of trauma in our own lives. Looking at things logically now: duh. It was there all along, but I had chosen to view it through a warped lens. A lens that tried to turn a horrible experience into a shared strength.
It was a lie. And this is where the ‘poison’ aspect comes in: anyone who’s studied trauma understands that it fundamentally changes how your brain works. It bypasses the logic centers and goes straight to the fight or flight response. This doesn’t necessarily result in a true battle, instead manifests as stubbornness – fighting the obvious facts in favor of something that was more palatable than that I had totally misjudged the situation and placed my trust in someone who was not deserving of it. It seeped into my vision and skewed my judgment. And only now, six-plus months later, am I able to see.
Of course, now I feel guilty and humiliated for not having seen it sooner. After all, I’ve been in therapy for over 35 years…you’d think by now I would know better. That I might have learned how to evaluate a situation better than I did back then.
But that would be incorrect. I still walk into situations like this and think, “This time will be different.” Yes, well, we all know about the definition of insanity, don’t we?
The poison is part of me and always will be.