Letters to Linda – Feeling Like It Was Your Fault

One of the first thoughts after trauma or abuse is, “It was my fault.” That is a lie.

If you don’t have someone with you at the time to tell you that no, it was not your fault, you keep believing that lie, and that lie does a lot of damage, so I will tell you now:

It was not your fault.

It was not my fault when my car wrecked. Yes, I was driving the car. No, I did not have control over the road conditions and hundreds of cars drove over the exact spot that sent me spinning in the 5 minutes before I did. The assessment by emergency services and my insurance company was that I was not at fault. Did I still feel at fault? Yes, until a few years later when I got into therapy. Sometimes accidents happen. Things happen. That does not make them my fault. And if it’s not my fault, I do not need to assign blame or shame to myself.

When my brother was in a work accident and was injured by a machine, he felt that he was at fault until the investigator told him that he wasn’t. He was in control of the machine, right? He could have done something else that would have made sure he didn’t get hurt, right? Wrong. What happened was outside of his control or responsibility, and it was not his fault.

When someone abuses or assaults you, you feel at fault too. You should have walked away, should have said something, should have said no, should have…

No. Abuse and assault perpetrated against you are not your fault. You did not invite it, you did not cause it, and there is no fault for “allowing it”, because you didn’t. When you were in that situation, you had to balance and navigate threats and consequences, and you didn’t ask to navigate that. You probably weren’t prepared to navigate that. When people talk about abuse and assault like you can just walk away or say no, they miss what happened, which is that you were trapped by whoever was perpetrating this against you, and you didn’t see a way out. None of that is your fault.

Outside voices can also make things into something more or less than they are. As a survivor of a terrible car wreck, people told me over and over again that I must have been saved for a higher purpose, that I must be meant for something great. Two years later, on the edge of losing my sanity, I hadn’t achieved anything great, I was barely surviving, and the pressure to make something great out of my experience was almost too much for me. It was so freeing when I could embrace the statement, “It happened.”

No more, no less, it happened, and I could do with that what I chose. Not what others chose for me, but what I chose based on where I was and what I could do.

Blame and shame do not help you heal. Believing it was your fault does not help you heal. What helps you heal is accepting that it was not your fault, you are not to blame, and there is no shame in your experience, because you have done the best you could with what you had. Put the fault where it belongs, on abusers and assailants, not on you.

When Not Being A Priority Is a Trigger

I’ve paid so much for what someone else broke.

I want to vomit. 

There is just no way to understand what I live with. At least that’s my assumption. Because after sharing blogs, sharing books, talking about my experience, trying to share what goes on in my head and trying to develop a way of talking about what happens in my brain in a clear and specific way… “I am engaged with old school friends. Probably best to say goodnight.” was like being shoved off a cliff. 

Hello, familiar pit of mental hell. 

And no amount of him saying, “I’m not very good at communicating over the phone.” can repair the neuron paths in my brain that immediately take me to the worst moments of my existence when they get hit with the news that I’m just not important enough to be a priority. 

Ever felt your soul scream? You can’t hear it, thankfully. I don’t think I could survive hearing it. Feeling it is painful enough. And it happens for me when someone safe becomes a threat because my injured brain reads threat. I’m in fight mode right now and am desperate to survive. I’m also desperate to rein in the fight, because I’m about to destroy things… mainly the him that just became a threat. 

I’ve worked so hard to repair the damage so that this wouldn’t happen. I’ve paid so much for what someone else broke. And now, because of a trigger I forgot I have, my soul is screaming in pain in between waves of nausea. 

The only thing I have to hold onto is that I didn’t break before, and this might be the worst trigger I’ve had in a long time, but I was able to manage two of them, so I might be able to handle this one too. 

Reclaiming Sex (And the Words that Got Me There)

I cried because at one point he asked if I was happy, and I realized that yes, I was.

I have had so much negative association with sex. David and I have been held off, aside from some fun times fooling around, because I wasn’t ready, and I had a lot to process and figure out. It’s been hard. It’s also been really good. And, for the first time ever for me, sex is really good.

I’ve been reading Come As You Are by Emily Negoski. It’s a game changer about sex for every woman (I think men would benefit from reading it, and I was sending pages to David as I read it), and was especially so for me post-rape. I like science, I find information freeing, and I would rather have the information and make a decision than not know. Every time I learn I have a choice (abuse, rape and assault are not times that you have a choice, and that infects so much of your life), I get to move forward toward healing. This book gives a lot of information about how our bodies and our brains can better enjoy sex, and how people who have survived trauma don’t have to stay stuck.

There was so much I didn’t know. And now I know. And while reading that book, I started to think that maybe I might actually be ready for sex.

One of the things I appreciate so much about David is that he has changed his language to be more supportive of me. He’s listening and he’s willing to learn, and while our verbal communication styles are different, he’s saying very specific things that tell me he cares, he’s prioritizing me feeling safe and he’s making space for my experience to be valid and not crazy (I still often feel pretty crazy). I’ve also worked really hard to be clear and specific about my experience without assigning blame or shutting down. Go us!

He did the most incredible thing today. We had planned to spend the day in our “couple bubble”, and that got progressively interrupted by other people. I’m not interested in throwing fits or demanding things, and life is what it is, so I rolled with it, and when we finally rolled into his bed, he wanted to talk about expectations for when I was ready for sex so that he’d know.

Y’all, that man is a gift.

I had just read about making my sexuality my own, making it what I choose to make it rather than only what serves someone else and just making the goal pleasure and fun and curiosity rather than performing to some kind of insane and conflicting societal standard or the demands of an abusive past. Hearing him reinforce that I get to make the choice about when I’m ready and what will make me feel safe and comfortable? I wasn’t ready, but I was. All that negative shit about sex that has been drilled into me for years? I don’t have to make it my own. That belongs to someone else. I get to choose. And I chose yes.

I chose yes to today, yes to what I was comfortable with and who I was comfortable with and yes to whatever that brought up. I got to give consent and, to my great surprise and delight, sex was fun. It was good, it was pleasurable, I enjoyed him, I enjoyed me, and when I got home I felt no shame and no obligation. Those words? Those words are the words of someone who had earth-shakingly good sex. Not because we scared the neighbors a mile down the road with a deafening climax (haha, yet), but because everything I’ve felt before that was negative was gone. And because we communicated expectations beforehand, he wasn’t surprised when I cried, he just held me. I cried because at one point he asked if I was happy, and I realized that yes, I was. Then tears. Really good tears that needed to happen a long time ago.

It is really easy to make me the center of this, to work around my needs, but his are important too. So when he breathed “I needed that.” after he finished I was glad – not because I had met some kind of performance standard, but because I want to see both of our needs met in this relationship, not just mine because I’m the needy one right now.

Naturally, I had a panic attack when I got home. I was in a safe place, had just showered, and had time to process. I wasn’t very emotionally connected to him during sex, which I wasn’t surprised about since that was a feelings overload. It was enough that I felt safe and comfortable, the rest will happen as it happens. But here’s the really great part, and the part where I did the real work of reclaiming sex: I handled the panic attack without meds and by facing it head-on, not by letting it control me.

My experience has been to be raped and abandoned. That sounds harsh, and it is, because it was harsh. It was cruel. It was meant to manipulate me, and feel horrible about myself so that I could be controlled. There is so much shame in that experience, and so much reason to shut down. Which is why I texted David to let him know that I was feeling a little bit of separation anxiety and may need some reassurance…JUST KIDDING, TOTAL MELTDOWN. The wave of panic hit hard and made everything that had just been so good out to be so bad.

PTSD is a bitch.

I got called Boss Bitch today, and that’s funny to me now because that’s kind of accurate. I made a decision to be open, to not feel shame, to communicate my experience, to give myself some space to acknowledge the panic and to face it and use the opportunity to reprogram those neuron pathways that wanted me to panic about sex. I settled into a meditation pose, acknowledged my feelings, inquired whether those feelings had any basis, worked though what I knew or had evidence for (basically talking back to the fear that I had just been used and was about to be abandoned, noting to myself that he wanted to stay with me longer, he had no expectations, he was being responsive even though he had other things going on that I had known about ahead of time, that he had made sure I felt safe, that he had checked with me for consent, that he was being intentional about communicating how his work schedule might be challenging for me given what he knows about my communication style), and told myself that I got to make the decisions, not anxiety. I told my brain what it actually needed to think, and that if it still wasn’t sure, we could ask. But I didn’t have to.

David called me my favorite nickname, supported me and stayed responsive until I let him know I was calm and ok. Short texts, big impact. The words that helped me get there as I reclaimed sex.

Getting Me Back

Sex and dating have been the last big issues I haven’t really dealt with post-PTSD. I didn’t have to, so I didn’t, and figured I’d deal with it when I had to. Well, now I have to if I want this relationship to continue. Which I do, because Client’s Brother is an incredible surprise, and I’d like to see where we go. He knows I still have a lot of shit to work through, and he’s kind and compassionate about it. Since I have a giant question mark about my reactions to everything (post-assault I am pretty skittish about, well, everything), I have no idea what I’m comfortable with and what I’m not. I have so many negative emotions about sex and dating, and changing that is going to take time and energy that I don’t yet have available for this. He’s walking through this with me, and I couldn’t really ask for more. It’s quite wonderful.

As I’m rolling into the end of the work year and things slow down for about a month, I have some space to step away from the office and focus on myself. It’s time I really need to do this, to get ME back. I need to form different coping habits, need to resolve some background noise and pursue some things that bring me joy, things that I haven’t had the energy to pursue. As much as the recovery process is central to my life, I’m ready to move beyond recovery and be more than the anxiety and scars. I think that identity was ok for a while, and I think it gave me a bit of shelter, but I’m more than the scars and want to be more than the anxiety. I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions, I don’t start things on Mondays and I try to avoid high-expectation change scenarios. I’d rather start something on a Tuesday in April. So no end-of-year or new year plans, just seems like the right time to push myself forward a bit and regain some of what I like about myself.

Second Date/Planned First Date

There will be more of these.

Second date with Client’s Brother ended up being 12 hours. Sometimes you just don’t wanna leave…

Experience (which is not what any sane person wants to claim, but my 20s were a rough time in my life) has taught me that if I don’t bend (at times until I break) for another person, they’ll leave. I have been so accommodating for so long that I forgot to say what I want and need and not care if that didn’t work for him. That changed last night.

Client’s Brother met me after church to grab some supplies, eat lunch and head out Talkative Friend’s house to work on our charity craft project. He met the kids, was very helpful and actually worked, whereas they mostly socialized. I have some large wall art pieces to finish, and he painted framed and nailed boards like a pro. I introduced him but didn’t mention how I knew him, because, frankly, it’s more fun for them to wonder. We finished for the day in just enough time to make it to watch the sun set over the lake, and it is not terrible to be held and have your neck kissed while you watch the sky aflame with color. My favorite restaurants are closed on Sundays, so we got margaritas, then pizza and beer, splitting a massive slice while we snuggled and watched football.

Then we kissed in my car in the Home Depot parking lot till 1:30 in the morning. PG, y’all.

I am all for taking time to get to know someone. I think relationships happen at so many different speeds. I also think that with what I live with, and the lingering damage of assault, it’s better for a guy to know up front what he’s getting into. I may come off as bubble princess in public, but my private life is far different, and I don’t want to have to pretend with him. So I told him what being in my life entails, what I have to work through still and that I am still learning to ask for what I need. He was so accepting and accommodating. He asked what he needed to do and what that would look like for him. I just asked for patience, and he told me I was worth it.

We traded stories of our demons in between kisses. So many kisses. He’s just as hesitant that I won’t accept his past, even though he’s now a different person. He has similar family obligations, responsibilities and concerns, he has made bad relationship choices and he wants better. And he’s smart. He doesn’t understand what I deal with but he’s already shown he’s willing to take care of me. He’s affectionate, which I need because I am too. Two grown-ass adults PG kissing in a car for 4 hours? Because I was vulnerable and he valued that? It’s a way better experience. Here’s to trying new things.