because that is what trauma survivors do.
Unhealed childhood trauma can manifest in a lot of ways, like being a people pleaser, always feeling on high alert, having fears of abandonment, tolerating abusive behavior, and over-explaining shit. It’s a constant feeling of needing to prove myself. Because, as a child, I was treated as such. Nothing more than an idiot child who is meant to be seen and not heard and, heaven forbid, I try to actually express thoughts and emotions. Oh no, those things make people uncomfortable, we don’t talk about those things.
I’ve overcome a lot of those manifestations of trauma in the last couple of years. I don’t feel a need to fix or help others anymore - I don’t mean like not help anyone at all, just… I quit trying to help people who refused to help themselves and were horribly toxic to me. I quit trying to always be “the bigger person.” I learned to just walk away without looking back. I learned to stop feeling responsible for people who didn’t feel any sense of responsibility for me or the negative effects their presence had on my well-being.
I think I’ve pretty much cracked the whole co-dependency thing. Like, I don’t ever want to be dependent on anyone ever again, or have someone dependent on me. Once my last child is grown and has flown the coop, I will be free, free at last! I am at about a 97% certainty level that I do not ever want to live with a man again. Not without my own room, anyway. I don’t ever want to share a bedroom with a man again, not on a permanent basis. He can spend some time in my bed but the rest of the time, my room is my sanctuary and not to be invaded by another person’s presence in the form of dirty socks on the floor or a glass of water on the nightstand. I don’t even have a nightstand, so GTFOH with your glass of water. I just want my space to be mine and only mine. Nobody coming in and wanting to hang this there and move this over here. Uhuh.
Requiring external validation is also a manifestation of unhealed trauma. This is the part where I want to say I don’t much require it but the little voice in my head says, “What you write here is for you and what’s the point in lying to yourself for the world to see?” I require more external validation than I let on and get so much more than I think I deserve. There are people in my life who shower me with love, bombard me with it, wrap me up in it. They tell me I’m amazing and good and beautiful and that my paintings are incredible. They all validate me in a million ways and I’m willing to bet that most of them don’t even realize they’re doing it. They’re genuine, sincere. They have no agendas or hidden motives or anything to gain other than the fact that expressing love and gratitude makes them feel good. I’ve somehow managed to surround myself with several people who just shine like the sun. I have lived without that and so I know how it would feel to lose it. I know how it felt to live without it for so long and it was empty and the sadness was crushing and it was so much easier to believe that no one loved me or would care, or even notice, if I wasn’t around anymore. So yeah, I do require some of that external validation, but not because I’m all empty. No, I really have gotten pretty good at the self-validation thing. It just helps a whole hell of a lot to have so many loving people to reinforce it for me.
I think I’m greatly improving at the whole setting boundaries thing, which was not even a concept in my life until… well, a year ago? Year and a half? Like, I was such a fucking doormat. I just wanted people to be happy so I would robotically do whatever it was I thought would please them. Now I recognize that someone else’s happiness isn’t my responsibility. Either they’re happy with me as I am or they can go away. I do not need to alter myself and my behavior to please anyone.
I am still living on high alert. Always on high alert. It’s the most frustrating of all the things. I can’t control it. I take the medicines and I do the things to try to mitigate it, like practicing self care, meditation, distraction (tv shows, gardening, playing with my kitten, random chores), smoking marijuana and having an edible. Baking muffins. Whatever. More and more, I’m doing all of those things with a sense of urgency, so it kind of defeats the purpose. My tools are failing is what I’m trying to say. In this way, my tools are failing.
I don’t so much as have a fear of abandonment as an expectation of it. Everyone goes away eventually. And I have long been aware of the fact that I am the common denominator in that and so I have believed that, well, obviously I’m the problem. Otherwise everyone wouldn’t keep going away, you know? And that’s another trauma response in itself - everyone keeps going away because we push them to go away.
This is for real. This is what I do, what I still do, and it’s so hard to just not. Sorry, sorry, sorry.
I’m working on a lot of things. I feel like I am juggling a hundred balls, except I don’t know how to juggle and they’re chainsaws. And I’m standing on very thin ice and sharks are circling below the surface. It goes way beyond walking on eggshells. I often feel afraid of saying the wrong things, that I’ll completely alienate someone who loves me with a single sentence. Is that even rational? I don’t really think it is.
For the majority of my life, people were always telling me I was overreacting, that my emotional responses were wrong. I shouldn’t think or feel this way or that way, it’s too extreme. I was gaslighted by my parents and family, by men, by employers and bosses and co-workers. I was over-emotional, they said. Volatile. Extreme. Crazy. Maybe I was those things, but I am not those things now. What I am now is appropriately extreme considering what I’ve survived. My behaviors, my reactions, are all tempered by the trauma of years of gaslighting and abuse, and they are appropriate. No one but me gets to decide what the appropriate response is for me. No one gets to tell me how to continue to experience my trauma every day, because I do continue to experience it all every single day. How I react to it is what matters, so I work real hard at reacting appropriately. Because, you know, I’m a woman. Can’t get too wild or then I’m just hysterical. I am expected to remain calm at all times so no one is uncomfortable. I should not put myself in dangerous situations by speaking up for myself, by demanding my boundaries be respected.
All that gaslighting is what led me to be in a lot of dangerous situations in the first place. My responses to that trauma, the people-pleasing and the co-dependency and the tolerating abusive behavior, were inappropriate. My responses should have been rage and anger and even violence. Do you know how many people I wouldn’t have had sex with if only I had been capable of speaking up for myself, of just saying no? How many times I just laid there with someone fucking away at me while I just wished it would be over? These things happened to me because I was afraid of overreacting. All sexual assaults went unreported because I know how victims are treated in most cases and I really didn’t feel like having my entire existence picked apart for them to find some way to justify me being assaulted.
This was a hard day in a lot of ways. Mostly the ways inside my head. Outside my head, it was a glorious day, really. Took my kitten to the vet, got to hear my favorite voice in the world, performed a whole bunch of self-care stuff and got myself dressed and make-upped and went to see my son’s first gig with his band. It was a really wonderful night and they are a very talented bunch of young men. I had an awesome time.
But, the high alert and the trauma responses that I haven’t gained control over seem to never stop these days.
I’ll get there (probably) some day. Until then, I am most certain that what I need right now is a couple of nights with my love and some LSD.
Happy Day 4895 of the apocalypse, people.