Dating with PTSD – When Communication Holds Trauma

It’s a horrible realization, and such a hard thing to battle through.

Dating again has opened up a whole new area of trauma that I did not realize I had. I have actually been abused and traumatized by communication, or the lack thereof.

Shit.

I have had it burned into my brain that if I don’t perform to expectation, if I don’t do what the other person wants or what works for them – with no regard for me – then I will be punished or abandoned. If I try to ask for what I need, I will get abuse. If I try to have a voice, I will get abuse. If I do anything that might assign any value to myself, other than an object of whim and convenience, I will get abuse. I will be manipulated through the withdrawal of affection, attention, acknowledgement or care. I will be abandoned or discarded without notice or explanation. There will be no resolution or discussion, only accusations, abuse and silence.

I had no idea.

One of the things that is so important for me to communicate is how I feel and what I need. If I am anxious, if I get triggered, if I am scared or uncertain, the best way for me to resolve that and mitigate severe anxiety/panic attacks is to have the space to talk about it or work through it so that I can understand what’s going on. Which is the exact thing that I have been taught will get me abused. It’s a horrible realization, and such a hard thing to battle through. Because the only way this gets better is to do exactly what I’m afraid of doing, and I have to not only look at my own scars, I have to show them to someone else, someone I am just now learning to trust.

Shit.

In staying with my practice of gratitude, I am grateful that I had the courage to start the healing process once I realized what was happening. I am also grateful he was willing to listen and be accepting.

But shit.

Reliving the Worst Day of My Life

I can take care of things in the moment, but then who takes care of me? 

My brother was working on his truck bed yesterday morning. He had a hand-held grinder, and the grinding blade hit something that jerked the tool out of his hand. The blade cut across the back of two fingers on his right hand…the same hand that is very slowly healing after his accident in May.

I was upstairs on the phone with my business partner when I heard both of my brothers hollering for me to come help. I was at the bottom of the stairs when I saw the trail of blood across the floor. I quickly hung up and ran to the kitchen sink, where my youngest brother had his hand under running water, groaning in pain.

Thankfully the cuts were fairly shallow, and after some bleeding, cursing, near-barfing and fainting on his part and a few laughs, I got him bandaged up and on Tylenol. He was back at it a short time later after the pain and shock subsided.

Then it was my turn.

His accident was the worst day of my life, and reliving that by seeing his fingers cut, hearing his pain and bandaging him up – we’re not that far removed from when we weren’t sure if we could keep his fingers healthy enough to avoid amputation. I could respond calmly and quickly in the moment, sure. I wiped up the blood trail from the garage to the kitchen, scrubbed the doors and floors, bleached the sink and the dishes nearby and threw the towels in the wash. He didn’t need stitches, but he did need a good bandage job, which I did carefully to avoid putting him in more pain.

I freaked out later. I wasn’t even willing to drive.

Handling my own triggers is one thing. Supporting someone I love dearly while they deal with a trauma trigger that is also a trauma trigger for me? Almost more than I can handle. 36 hours later I am still shaky, still distracted, still just wanting to sleep it off…for a week. This is so hard…and it will happen again.

External support systems are so important for this very reason. My family has experienced trauma together, so when we get a trauma trigger, like my brother’s mishap yesterday, it’s hard to learn on each other because we can’t hold each other up, at least not for long. I can take care of things in the moment, but then who takes care of me?

If you don’t say what you need, people don’t know. I was not at all excited about trying to learn to lean on David when our relationship is still new and I was a hot mess, but he needed to know. I wasn’t willing to drive, I was not in a good place and I was not interested in surface conversations. I needed to connect, I needed reassurance and I needed to not further burden my family. I didn’t even tell my mom till later in the evening so that she wouldn’t worry while she was working. So I said what I needed, and got more than I asked for. Find your tribe and appreciate them for what they do for you. When people are willing to be a gift, accept it with gratitude and keep moving forward.

Late Nights & Lots of Crafts

I’m in my natural state – overextended.

I stay in a constant state of overcommitment. I still haven’t learned that I can’t do as much most days, so I do what I want to do, rather than what would be a better balance. I really love to give my time away. ALL OF IT.

I have zero space for dating, because I hadn’t planned on it. Now I’m dating, and it’s making for some late nights on the phone because that’s when we can catch up and focus on each other.

I am working with my lovely if occasionally annoying group of kids to make crafts to sell at my city’s massive Christmas Stroll this coming weekend in support of an orphanage near Monterrey, Mexico. It’s beyond giving to the less fortunate, it’s about providing for the most vulnerable people – impoverished and abused children. We heard about the booth and promptly offered up all of our creativity and spare nights, and we have been busy. It’s a great bonding time, but sitting on a tile floor painting for 3 hours last night is not without its consequences for me this morning as I creak around. My grouchy old bones are not as willing of participants.

This is on top of work, caring for my grandma, running the house, my brother starting to open up to me, various other holiday commitments for care packages and gatherings, my pro bono work, my volunteer work, and at some point starting to make Christmas happen.

Can I not adult today?

But it’s so worth it. Sacrificial giving is such a fulfilling thing. Not the giving from excess, but giving from having little. It’s part of my practice of gratitude, and I have rest planned as soon as I finish my whirlwind of commitments. I will be grateful for that too!

 

Thankful

Practicing gratitude does a lot for mental health.

I woke up in the middle of the night with searing pain in my tension spot. I have a place near my right shoulder in my trapezoid muscle that seizes up when I am really tense. It feels like the muscle is being ripped out. Fun times, right? I had just finished a REM cycle and had had a nap yesterday, so I ended up being awake for about an hour, which was plenty long enough to slap a Tiger Balm patch on it and consider just getting up already.

I went back to sleep.

I previously wrote about living with near constant physical and emotional pain. It can be hard to be thankful, but gratitude is so necessary to a good life. A friend asked me yesterday how I deal with it all. I do exactly what I was doing yesterday – serve other people and meet their needs. I mixed dressing (not stuffing cause it was in pans, not in birds), filled to-go boxes, made friends and delivered meals to elderly members of the community. I sat with a woman who cried because she is lonely, having lost her husband about this time last year. They were married for 74 years. I offered to come back to see her and bring some friends, and she accepted.

I got so much more out of that than I gave.

I met a woman who also has PTSD, who works with veterans because it helps her to be around people who get it. She, too, is a survivor of sexual assault, and she, too, knows the incredibly stupid things people say when you open up about an experience others don’t understand. That connection was such a blessing, and we plan to get to know each other better. She is surprised I am still here. I’m thankful someone recognizes the hell.

Client’s Brother (I really love ridiculous nicknames so that will be hard to change if this goes forward) asked me out, and we’ve been talking in the meantime. He invited me to lunch and a brewery on Sunday, and I countered with my commitment to make wall art to sell to support an orphanage. He offered to help with that instead and said the brewery could wait. I’ve been clear about having PTSD, that crafting is with some bonkers 20-ish church kids, he knows I have a stalker because stalker emailed me yesterday to wish me and my family a Happy Thanksgiving (ugh) and so far the date is still on. I’m not used to people just rolling with me. I’m also not used to standing on a position of join me or don’t, this is what I’m doing regardless, because this is what I want.

So many reasons to be thankful, not in spite of, but in the midst of.