I had some trouble starting this post. I found myself wanting to analyze my friendships and how each of them have been impacted by my work. I’m sensing some avoidance…? I guess I’ve never allowed myself to fully consider how much being in the trauma field has impacted my relationship with my husband.
My husband and I have been together since we were 18 years old (we’re 28 now, just to put things into perspective). Our marriage and my work as a therapist in the trauma field began a little over a year ago. The timing of everything was trippy. I was in grad school, interning as a trauma clinician, getting married, and experiencing one of my first severe bouts of depression and anxiety as an adult. I don’t attribute my mental health struggle to any one event during that time. I really believe it was a mixture of things being fueled by avoidance and a lack of self-care/self-love/self-respect.
I remember facilitating practices such as prolonged exposure (google it, it’s the shit) and how I felt at the end of each day after hearing hours of trauma accounts. I noticed myself driving home from my internship in silence (it’s not like me to not immediately open Spotify when I start my car). I remember feeling angry, frustrated, sad, and helpless. My thoughts and feelings were too loud and couldn’t be drowned out by music or anything else for that matter. How can some people be so resilient, amazing, kind, and strong while others are filthy, hateful, and just all around crappy? How can one person go through so much and still remain standing? Why do some people experience chronic trauma while others don’t? All of the whys, all of the time.
If I said I didn’t take some of that home with me, I’d be lying. I’d come home and begin to question EVERYTHING. Honestly, I found myself feeling guilty. I felt really guilty about my relationship. Believe me, my relationship is far from perfect and we’ve faced our fair share of obstacles, but even in our darkest moments, I’ve always felt loved. Everyone deserves to feel safe and respected and the stories that I was hearing were full of the exact opposite. Many of my clients were terrified to go home and that was something I wasn’t able to comprehend.
I realize now that this really did impact my relationship. I pushed away. I didn’t walk in the door, kiss him, and ask about his day like I usually did. Instead, I came inside, went straight to the shower, and then sat on the couch and zoned out. In addition to being plagued by guilt (thank you, depression), I kept thinking about all of the unhealthy relationships that I had with men prior to the age of 18. How much I needed affection, no matter what came before or after it. Any attention was good attention. That part of my life sucked and I’d never want to go back. I felt like I was being forced back there to relive my past traumas and it was easier for me to just shut down.
Looking back, I think my reaction had a lot to do with how I was treated in previous relationships. How things always seemed fine until BAM- absolute chaos. Respect always flew out the window and I was left feeling insecure and alone. Maybe a part of me was feeling insecure all over again. I can admit at this point in my life that I was afraid. Even though this fear was warranted, I was still holding on to my own traumatic experiences. I was being triggered by my interactions with my clients.
Obviously, when I first entered this field, I was stuck in a negative headspace that forced me to question everything about myself and the world around me. People became either good or bad. My exes became either good or bad. My husband became either good or bad.
Some people might think that they’d hold onto their loved ones extra tight if they were exposed to the same thing day after day. Fair enough. I didn’t react that way. I was just turned off from intimacy and was focused on doing what I could to push the memories, guilt, and fear down.
This is really tough to admit. It actually really sucks because I notice myself feeling guilty again. Guilty that I felt the way that I did. But, I’m here to be open and honest- so that’s what I’m doing.
Time went on, I got more comfortable with my job and I sought help. I’m human, so I’m definitely still impacted by my work, but it just looks different now. I’m communicating my fears and needs in a way that is clear and well-received.
I will say that being immersed in the trauma field has taught me that healing is possible. Survivors have taught me that I deserve respect, love, openness, and appreciation. I’m constantly learning how to utilize my experiences in a way that makes me a better, more empathetic clinician. For me, it’s not about avoiding triggering situations, it’s about giving myself the space to process them with people that I respect and love and who feel the same way about me.
I hope this post made sense, I kind of feel like I was all over the place. It was hard to start and then it all just came rushing out. I made a lot of solid realizations and I’m feeling extra vulnerable/excited to share them with all of you.
As always, I’m wishing you love and light.
Ah, relationships. I think I need a glass of red for this one, lord help me. I have been in three major relationships in my life. One okay, one hard, and one devastating. Safe to say that when it comes to the work I’ve done with my clients, I’ve always been skewed (but aren’t we all?). *enter nervous laughter*
Even before getting into the trauma field almost nine years ago, I was still pretty awkward with the whole relationship thing. My first relationship that lasted more than a month was when I was in high school, and it was the first time I thought about my relationship with my body. Because prior to exactly one year ago today, I was completely transparent about my feelings, but definitely had a very disconnected, unhealthy relationship with my body.
It’s really interesting to me that I chose to go into the very specific field of sexual violence, since I grew up being taught to deny and shame my own body and sexual desires, as well as to shame and cast judgment on those whose “lifestyles” were “wrong” or “sinful”. Doesn’t take a genius to see a connection there.
Because as different as violence and brainwashing are from one another, they also have many similarities. They can both be insidious. And also extremely conflicting. Especially when the people perpetuating it genuinely believe they are right and have good, pure, and loving intentions. Because when this is the case, it doesn’t feel like “brainwashing” in the moment, and you become defensive of anyone not in your world who disses it. And by you, I mean me.
I’ll be straight with you. What I’m getting at is that I grew up being thrown into every abstinence-only class that existed within a 10-mile radius. I grew up going to Sunday school every weekend and bible camp every summer. I even went to an evangelical university! Terms like righteous, homosexual, sin, adultery, sacrament, virgin, and temple were very commonplace, and I grew up saying them too. So when it came to intimacy within relationships, I already came into the trauma field with some pretty heavy baggage.
It wasn’t until I interned at a rape crisis center that I began to reflect on women’s experiences with their bodies, sex, intimacy, choice, and consent. The center was (and still is) a feminist, multicultural agency that took pride in actively advocating for consent and empowering women to explore their sexuality. As someone who experienced internalized shame, I know now that this placement was “meant to be”.
Ultimately, what I’m noticing as I’m writing this (and you may be too) is that when I sit down and think about relationships, my mind automatically goes to sex. After doing much self-work and processing on this, I’ve come to discover that my knowledge and awareness of sexual health, sexual empowerment, and exploration were never things that I was allowed to talk about growing up; and so now, in my late 20s, I’m really discovering them for the first time.
Same with love.
Combine that with being a trauma therapist and advocate for freedom of choice, this can’t not impact my romantic relationships. And my internalized shame is certainly something that I still struggle with occasionally, because that’s just something that takes a long-ass time to detox from. Can I get an amen?
I would say that shame has impacted my mentality of sex. My professional experience with domestic violence, combined with my last relationship, has impacted my mentality of relational dynamics and TRUST, above all else. The moment I begin talking to someone I’m interested in, I’m already assessing them:
Do they seem entitled? Are they lying? Is this just a ploy to get me into bed? Are they married or already in a relationship? Are they asking me enough questions or are they just talking about themselves? Did that text seem sketchy? Was that time they got irritated the beginning of the cycle of violence? Are you going to get tired of me and cheat on me with someone else? Are you secretly a sex trafficker? Are you covertly part of a gang that’s going to traffick me? Is this for real? What are you really trying to get at? Am I feeling too much? Is it healthy to be this in love with someone? Are you going to hurt me?
Fwew. You catch my drift. Paranoid much?
I’m a trauma clinician. Of course I’m paranoid.
I’m exposed to sexual trauma every single damn day. And yes, I choose to, because it’s in people’s recovery and the power of bearing witness that I love. And yes, this has consequences. Like occasional intrusive thoughts of rape, of sensory experiences that my synthesia holds onto (did I mention I have that?). It’s all part of the job. That’s me processing. And as normal as it is considering what I do, OF COURSE it’s annoying AS FUCK sometimes. Especially when you’re...you know.
Thank god for therapy.
And now that I think about it, my last two relationships have been with people who have experienced trauma (and in very different ways). My last partner’s family was heavily in the gang life, and they had a past history of physical aggression as a youth. My partner before that was an active veteran, and they were deployed while we were together; although this was approximately their third deployment. And they had seen it all, especially torture.
So, with these individuals, all of our quirks, our trauma-induced habits, were very normal. Backs to the wall in restaurants, dislike of crowded spaces, unable to focus on a conversation with other people around due to taking in every. single. detail. Totally “normal”.
And you know what? I’m not gonna lie. There is a thrill in it for me. Always has been. Of being with someone “with a past”. Because let’s face it- MOST people in the helping professions like to “save” or “rescue” people, to take care of others, to correct what was done to them.
And let’s not forget that the media (and novels, in my case) ROMANTICIZES this. Dark past, tough exterior? Hot. Hot. Hot. Stable past, kind exterior? Not. Not. Not. And bor-ing. How sad is that? And if you’ve experienced any kind of relational trauma, the person who is kind automatically brings up the suspicion of them hiding something or playing you.
So, yeah, my dating and relationship experience is sort of tinged and complex, to say the least. And I’ve been burned, unfortunately. Like many people have, even more unfortunately. To be frank, it’s hard for me not to be paranoid and/or suspicious. And I’m much more cautious with my emotions, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And my body shame? Much better, though still a long way to go. It’s easier to get in touch with my sexuality and not be as paranoid or suspicious when drinking of course, but as my previous therapist said, “Once you get in touch with your sexual self while you’re sober, you won’t need to only bring her out when you’re drinking.” And she’s right! I’d like to think that I’m growing in that area. Ovaries to the wall.
Being in the trauma field has been harrowing at times, but it’s been more empowering than I thought possible. I’m not afraid “to go there” in conversations. I’m not afraid of talking about death, about rape, about domestic violence, about institutional abuse and systemic oppression. No, these aren’t bubbly topics to bring up on first dates, but the conviction and confidence I’ve derived from owning them is invaluable. I’ve needed it my whole life.
And you know what? I’ve discovered that people are secretly thirsty to have REAL conversations. I’ve seen it.
Being in this field has also connected me with people who are powerful, courageous, and equally deep in their emotions and experiences of the world. And just as deep in their ability to love fiercely. It’s in their company that I have really found myself. And my tribe. I’m allowed to be 100% unapologetically me, and more importantly, I’ve allowed MYSELF to do that.
I reject right and wrong. I embrace life as it is: grey, complex, and deep.
I’m proud of who I’ve become, because I’ve fought so hard to get here. And each year I feel like I’m getting closer to digging through my internal muck and rescuing that artist child inside who just wants to play, to love, and to experience joy.
It’s the trauma field that’s helped me do that. And I don’t think any other field could.
Because without darkness, there is no light. The darkness has helped me to see what I want. What I value. What I cherish. And that I refuse to settle for anything less.
Maybe that’s why I’m not really a dater. I don’t do casual. I do depth. I’m a bottom-up kind of person, and that’s okay. It’s okay. Cause once I connect with you at the bottom, I have trust in you to be vulnerable and free at the top. Some people may say that’s “too intense” or to “lighten up”, but I don’t really care anymore. I accept my desires and how I connect.
I accept me.
And whoever I choose to be with next will not only understand that, but will love it too. R-E-S-P-E-C-T baby.
Here’s to being our undeniable, beautiful, fallible selves,
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