You Are Not Your Trauma

When J hurt me a few months ago, he reawakened a lot of the trauma I experienced from my mother’s hands as a child. I had a brief phone conversation with him last weekend, which hurt me a lot, because in several implicit ways, he blamed me for what happened. As I gripped my new smartphone in my hand and heard his callous tone, a flood of questions and doubts raced through me: am I just a product of my mother’s abuse? Does my compassion for others only stem from a need to distance myself from her? What does this mean for me, for my personality, for all of my good deeds? After that conversation, I deleted a post I wrote on this blog – a decision I regret – so I want to re-share a quote I included in it, about how people misrepresent love as a bond free of conflict:

“Love is possible only if two persons communicate with each other from the center of their existence, hence if each one of them experiences himself from the center of his existence. Only in this “central experience” is human reality, only here is aliveness, only here is the basis of love. Love, experienced thus, is a constant challenge; it is not a resting place, but a moving, growing, working together; even whether there is harmony or conflict, joy or sadness, is secondary to the fundamental fact that two people experience themselves from the essence of their existence, that they are one with each other by being one with themselves, rather than by fleeing with themselves. There is only one proof for the presence of love: the depth of the relationship, and the aliveness and strength in each person concerned; this is the fruit by which love is recognized.” – The Art of Loving, Erich Fromm.

While J has been the only friend to do something horrid to me this semester, others have abandoned me, and I realize I cannot control that. Some people have stopped caring, even if they believe they still might, because caring, as Fromm states, comes from the desire to communicate, to grow together, to act to maintain the depth and the aliveness and strength of the relationship. I have acknowledged my mistakes to these former friends, and they still have not come forth, so I have to come to peace with how maybe I will never know why they cut off their care: maybe they just need more time to develop the language to articulate their emotions. Maybe some other events happened in their lives that blindsided them even worse than J did to me. Maybe J just never cared in the first place, and he does not have the willingness to deepen himself, his care, or anything at all, really.

But I do not feel spite, because I know must care for myself, with the support of the few friends who have stayed by my side during this difficult time. This summer, which I will spend at my college doing research, will help me remove the association I have between J and my college itself. I will have more time to read, write, and plan purposeful and meaningful activism in regard to mental health. I will see a therapist, develop new friendships, and heal.

I want to end this post with a note about trauma. I have read a lot of articles as of late about the topic in an attempt to understand what I went through, and as a survivor of child abuse, I must say: you are not your trauma. You are more than an unkind, horrible deed someone did to you; you are more than the hurt you have received from a life that can feel so cruel.

I have spent at least a dozen hours this semester crying in bathroom stalls, because of distress and emotions I could not control. J wrecked me, and I suspect that he and my other former friends have spoken about me behind my back, instead of attempting healthy conversation. But these people’s actions do not define me, just as my mother’s abuse does not define me. I wake up every day and decide to live my life in service to others, to treat everyone, including myself, with compassion.

A kind reader of this blog sent me a quote about recovery, about how they learned that you make the choice to recover every day. And I will choose recovery every day – for myself and for others. And, without a doubt, so can you.

A close friend of mine made this for me. Bless her, and bless sticky notes.

A close friend of mine made this for me. Bless her, and bless sticky notes.

How do you guys feel about the content of this post? Would you agree or disagree with any of the sentiments expressed, and do you have any similar experiences with trauma or relationships? This post should serve as the last personal one for awhile; I will make myself promise to respond to a ton of comments before I publish any more, and I have a huge final in less than week, so please wish me luck. Thank you all for your support and your understanding., and I hope to hear from you soon!

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “You Are Not Your Trauma

  1. I experienced emotional and spiritual abuse from my father who was a Seventh-Day Adventist minister. I let that wound fester and never resolved it by the time my father died. That means I had 40 some years to reach out and didn’t. For a good chunk of my yout.h and young adult life I didn’t know how to classify what happened to me. Because the abuse wasn’t physical I just didn’t know that’s what it was.

    I studied behavioral science in college and pinpointed what I didn’t get. But I only put the pieces together recently. I know the experience changed me and prevented me from discovering things about myself. I now think my father struggled with gender and sexuality issues and I reminded him of his own unresolved issues. It was only when I let it go that I was able to move on. I came out for the third time of my life recently; this time as Agender. The first was coming out as gay (or queer as I now describe my sexual orientation). The second was as an Atheist/Humanist. Each of those life altering milestones were influenced in some way by my adolescent trauma inflicted by my father. It also affected relationships, mainly in issues around intimacy. So yes, get help and sort through stuff now.

    I have not been in an abusive relationship but I have had a close friend come to me in tears after a couple years of abuse. I know how hard it can be. I’m a very empathetic person. I am proud of that attribute but it does mean you experience some of the pain felt by others. I’m so sorry you were hurt both in your childhood and in a relationship. I’m here if you need to vent. I’m glad you have friends who’ve stuck by you. I know your a wonderful person. You owe it to yourself to be happy. So use this Summer to heal in whatever ways work for you. I waited way to long to heal, I just want you to get there a lot sooner.

    Sorry if I rambled a bit. You touched a sensitive place in my heart with the Post and felt I should share if for no other reason than to say I’ve been there and I’m pulling for you.

  2. Thomas, I hate what your mom, J, and S friends did to you, but I’m glad you were able to talk to J even though it hurt a lot. I’m glad to hear that J somewhat helped you begin to realize that you’re NOT a product of abuse and these events DO NOT define you. Instead they made you a stronger person. Also, they have given you an opportunity to share and inspire others to fight against hardships and to believe that they’ll be okay in the end (even though I know it tore you to pieces in the process). I’m lucky to say that I’ve never really experienced extreme trauma, but I’ve grown up with several friends that have had extreme cases of depression. And sometimes when friends do care for each other, they feel the burden even if they’re not the one carrying it. So seeing my friends in those states hurt me so much. J and the S friends weren’t worth it, if they were friends they shouldn’t have hurt you the way they did. As always we’re here for you Thomas. And I’m sure you’ll ace your finals, good luck! Have an awesome summer and take this time to heal!

    • Thank you so much for your support and for your kind words, Summer! I just started responding to blog comments today and I wanted to make sure I got to this one first; even though you yourself may have never experienced serious trauma, you are doing great good by educating yourself by reading others’ stories and by being as supportive to your friends as you can. Hope we can continue to read each others’ writing and learn from one another.

      • Through reading nearly all of your posts and even sometimes your goodreads reviews these past years, I’ve kind of concluded you to be a genuine and kind guy even though I haven’t met you in real life. I’m sure your other readers can say that much about you as well. So you deserve all this support, Thomas! And, yes, I’d love for us to keep in touch. đŸ™‚

  3. peter

    This is very moving Thomas. Well done. What you have suffered and your posted reactions clearly help a lot of people. You are doing good. Good luck with your exams!

    • Thank you, Peter, for always supporting me and responding to my posts even when I have not replied to your comments with immediate speed. Exams went well, and your encouragement aided me along the way.

  4. Hi Thomas!

    I don’t know if you really would have time to read all the comments or respond to them, but I just want you to know how much I appreciate your writing, your blog and you in general! Although this is the first comment that I have left, I have been reading your posts for a while now (I first found this through your goodreads book reviews).

    I would tell you that you are a strong and special person, but it seems weird coming from someone who is still in high school. (but I decided to say it anyway… ^ ^”). I also could say how much an inspiration you have been (which is true), but so many before me have said similar words and I’m sure you know how true these words are.

    Life can never be fully perfect. We sometimes we have to treat it as if it were. We all experienced hard times, but eventually our universe would right itself.

    Thank you Thomas for having the courage to share all these with us. It is hard to write online, knowing the people whom you know and don’t know will be reading. And thank you for being such a good role model for those of us who need one. (You really are! No need to be modest and say no). I along with all the readers here and those who truly care about you are rooting for you! đŸ™‚

    PS. Sorry that my writing isn’t good. I’m just not a great writer.

  5. Firstly, I hope your final went okay sweetie! Now onto your post.

    If being a kind and considerate person makes you happy, why question this positive impulse? Just go with it – because, as they always say, “what goes around, comes around”.

    And we are all, to some extent, “a product of our pasts”, because our past experiences will always shape how we react to the world around us… with fear, or hope etc. Still, we can choose to ‘retrain’ our minds by adding new experiences to our frame of reference (a new friend etc) and by re-examining old ones with fresh eyes (therapy etc).

    We are not just passive products of our environments, powerless, and indebted to fate – we are “the captains of our ships”. We all have storms to face (in life), but it is up to us to decide how we choose to weather them. đŸ™‚

  6. Kev

    Thomas, my heart broke a little when you wrote how you’ve spent hours crying in cubicles. I have found your former friend’s cruelty a mystery from the start. I don’t understand people. I have had a friend I thought I was really close to suddenly disappear from my life without a word. There was no falling out between us. She simply stopped replying to my texts and deleted me ftom her Facebook. I don’t think you need to worry about the content of your blog. You know what an inspiration I find you to be.

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