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.

Letters to Linda

I can open doors and invite her to walk through.

Sometimes you go through hell so that you can help others through it.

If all of the pain that I have lived with for the past few years can be used to help someone else who is in pain. It’s worth it to me. Not because I’m that self-sacrificing or any kind of imagined hero, but because it gives my pain a purpose, and it isn’t wasted. If someone benefits, whether that’s me or another, there’s purpose, and I find peace in that.

Having a platform to speak about my experience with PTSD (traumatic car wreck) in a way that I don’t feel compromises me the same as speaking about my other PTSD-causing experiences (traumatic abuse and sexual assault) gives me the freedom to say things that I find many trauma survivors don’t feel the freedom to say. When your trauma comes with shame, the last thing you want is for people to know. It’s why I don’t talk about being in an abusive relationship. I don’t want to re-live it, I don’t want to explain it and I don’t want to hear what most people have to say about it. Car wreck is different, it’s much more socially acceptable, elicits sympathy and the stupid comments don’t hurt as much (anymore).

Through a series of mistakes and judgmental attitudes (mostly on my part), I ended up at a coffee shop earlier this week sitting across from a woman ten years younger than I, who I will call Linda. After a brief conversation that you can read about in the post link, we got down to purpose. She asked me about my experience with PTSD, because she also has it. She was exposed to violence in a Mexican drug war and later to sexual abuse from a group she thought were her friends. In a story that felt so familiar, she didn’t realize for a long time that the violence was traumatic, or that the abuse was not ok, and that she wasn’t able to exercise choice. It left her empty, detached, obsessive and ashamed.

“Normal” things are triggers. She’s working so hard to hear a bachelor’s degree, but she has a hard time focusing and her grades suffer. Groups are uncomfortable for her at best. Her friends don’t understand and don’t try to. She’s ashamed of her response to “normal” things and hates that people perceive her as cold and disinterested. She’s dating a guy who loves her for who she is and is trying to learn how to support her, and she’s scared she’s going to sabotage the relationship because she doesn’t feel that she deserves to be loved. She doesn’t feel that she has access to mental health care, and she is swirling around in anxiety, not knowing what to do to break free.

That was, and to some extent still is, me. I’m further along in recovery, so I have a bit more clarity, but that is me. I don’t have to say I understand, because the energy I give off in response to what she says communicates how deeply I understand. And accept. And don’t judge. And I know how hard it is to ask for help. I know how hard it is to even understand what’s happening, or why all you want to do is lay in bed and watch tv. Why you torture yourself with negative thoughts and why self-harm is so attractive.

I’m not a mental health professional, I’m a client. And I can’t fix people, I gave that idea up already and my life improved drastically when I did. I can, however, share my experience with her in a way that meets her where she is. I can open doors and invite her to walk through. I can explain why she experiences some things in the way that she does, and I can give her the space and support to recover in her own way and her own time.

I think in this instance giving is the gift, and it’s one I want to share on my blog, so I’ll be posting the letters in the hope that they multiply the encouragement and acceptance for whoever will benefit from it. ❤