- Edit 15.01 - added the rest of the message. I hope you’re doing okay. <3
Sorry for the length of this post! You mention a lot of important things and I really wanted to take the time to respond.
First off, thank you so much for your reply. I really appreciate your trust and the time you’ve been giving to this response.
Let’s just agree to not be sorry for the time we take to reply. It’s totally fine to take our time. Just know that journal topics close 7 days after the last reply - so it’s not against you, it’s just an automatic setting. If that happens, you are totally free to open a new one or I’d reopen that one if your prefer. So it’s just to let you know, no stress.
I’m sorry your nights keep being difficult. And I hear what you say about melatonin. I take it too, highest dosage… and it doesn’t seem to be enough. For me personally, it really helps to not wake up during the night, but it’s not helpful to fall asleep. But still, it’s important to keep taking it. It gives a natural boost to your body regarding your sleeping patterns, even if it’s not always significant. It’s also still a way to take care of yourself. <3
I’m so sorry to hear that you are still being haunted by your past and that it keeps you up at night as well. I truly wish for healing for you.
Thank you. <3 I truly wish the same for you. And I believe we’ll reach that point of peace and healing that we need, even if it takes a lot of steps forward and backwards.
I’ve found that I do use music as a crutch to help get me through as well - I’m constantly listening to something and it really does help - at least while there is music playing, because it seems that as soon as I’m in silence alone with my thoughts, it all creeps right back and settles in again.
That totally makes sense. I’m by no mean an expert or professional, so I can only speak from my personal experience. When we face a traumatic event, we’re likely to develop different strategies to survive, especially if we don’t have any space to talk about it. For me personally, I’ve learned to understand that hypervigilance (and at the opposite, extreme apathy/numbness) is a huge part of who I am since I’ve been through violent times. So stillness, silence, quiet times are stressful to me. I feel safer when there’s noise in the background, when I do two things at the same time, also when I push myself beyond my own limits, which I need to be careful with. Sometimes it can be extreme and look more like I try to reach a point of sensory and emotional overload, which is not healthy. I need to feel active and outside of myself, otherwise I start to think, to feel… It’s a way to avoid myself. I did that through eating disorders as well in the past. And somehow it’s what you do with alcohool too. It’s human though. We want a relief when we feel in distress. It’s scary and difficult to navigate those emotions. Silence can feel unsafe. And it’s okay to give ourselves some grace and compassion while we’re learning to change what “being safe” means for us.
I couldn’t choose between my three favorite songs, so here they are. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
Thank you so much for sharing those songs. I really, really enjoy the third one especially. Can feel a lot the grief in it. It’s very powerful.
Apparently I don’t have one. I’ve kept all of this a huge secret from my family and friends over the years and I’m not about to open up about that to them. And what does it matter if I do? They wouldn’t be here to help me anyway. They are still in contact with him, and he’s a cop now so I feel like he’s untouchable. On top of the fact that I let all of that happen to me for years…
I’m really sorry you didn’t have any support for so long. That is, unfortunately, something that I understand too. It makes sense to feel like people around you wouldn’t help if they know about what you’ve been through. It’s something difficult to imagine. It’s totally new. A little bit like trying to visualize a color that we don’t know yet. It’s more conceptual at this point of your life. Which is why it takes a lot of strength to reach out. It might feel unsafe, but regardless of people’s reactions, it is never wrong to do it.
I hear that the context is very specific though, as your family is still in contact with him. I’m sorry, friend. I can’t imagine the pressure this situation add on your shoulders. I want you to know that the shame and guilt is not yours though. What he did was the result of his actions, decisions, responsability. Even if his work and position might be discouraging to receive some justice, there is no uniform that would ever take that responsibility away from him. It doesn’t belong to you.
You are not at fault. You never asked for it. You never did or said anything that would have allowed him to hurt you. You didn’t allow it by any mean. Abuse can be extremely complex. It’s often tied to a lot of very different and opposite emotions. But if one truth remains: you are not guilty for what happened. You didn’t before, you are not responsible today, and you won’t ever be responsible for it.
Talking to your family can be a huge step. You don’t have to talk about it to everyone, and you can take your time to make those decisions. There are places and times for everything. I think, a safe step can definitely to see a therapist, as you mentioned it. If you can, one who is trained and well-informed about traumas. They will be able to give you this non-judgmental listening that you need. They’ll show you an attidue that will help you learn that speaking can be done safely. And you have the absolute right to do so. It takes a lot of small steps. Trust is not given in an instant. And we don’t change patterns we’ve known for a long time just in a day. But having spaces where you feel safe to talk is, probably, a first priority right now.
How do you think your family would react if they know? Do you think they would keep being in contact with him? A huge part of talking depends on feeling safe or not with people around us. There’s no right/wrong answer by the way. Only what your heart feels about all of this.
In any case, you don’t deserve to drown with those thoughts and feelings. You don’t have to stay alone with it. You can empower yourself again, at your own pace.
I guess what I’m asking is, when I do get the courage to talk to him, should I be vague or do I need to open up about it all? I don’t want to paint him a picture but I also think he deserves to know the truth and the severity of what happened to me so he can fully understand why I am the way that I am.
That is definitely an answer you’ll have to find by yourself. What matters is to do things at your own pace. There is no right or wrong way to talk about those things, no should or shouldn’t, no prewritten rule. Only what you feel safe with the moment you talk.
Something I never really shared since I’m in this community is the fact that my partner also had his share of trauma, which makes our relationship very difficult sometimes. It’s not up to me to go into details here, but my point is that the first time he talked to me about it, he’s let me know that he wanted to talk to me and made me understand that it was both a difficult and serious subject. Somehow, he helped me as well to be prepared for what I’ll hear. My heart broke for him. But it’s not because I could relate or understand. It’s only because I love him.
I think, if you trust your husband enough to talk to him, he’s more than likely to react in a loving way, and not pressure you to give details. With my partner, whether it was him or me sharing things, we also made it clear to each other that those conversations shouldn’t be forced and details are not necessary, unless we’d like to talk about it. The hardest part is to break the silence, so the other person can understand the gravity of what we’re talking about. With time, you will learn to understand what you feel comfortable with or not.
But for the first conversation, you can set your own rules, in a loving and calm way. You can be honest about how you want this conversation to happen, what are your expectations, what could help you to talk eventually (for example: do you prefer him to stay silent, or to ask questions, or to share how he feels about it…). It’s totally okay to take your time and think about how you envision this conversation. And it can be done in different steps, gradually. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing details that day, you can always explain that you’d like to, but you’ll need time and you’ll ask him to respect that. It’s a way to put trust in each other, but also to prevent misunderstandings. And if you never want to share any specific details with him, that’s 100% okay too.
Also, I am very angry at my husband but I’m not sure if my anger is justified. I don’t think he realizes that I’ve been dealing with this, because I’ve been keeping everything hidden from him. But the fact that he doesn’t notice when I’m fading away or not smiling/laughing hurts…
It’s totally natural to wish that he’d notice and react, that he would ask questions and actively shows that he cares. Your anger is understandable. Though the absence of reaction/that he doesn’t seem to notice how you feel now doesn’t necessarily mean that he doesn’t care. I think, when we’ve been used for so long to basically hide and survive, we can also be really good at appearing confident and strong. It’s not our fault though. It was a way to survive when we felt deeply unsafe. For example, I know this might sound crazy but I know I can cry while being in a room with someone without them noticing. It’s scary sometimes to realize how much I’ve been “trained” to hide my emotions because I didn’t have any other choice before.
It’s okay to unlearn those things, to change the way we manage our emotions, also to give keys to people who love us to actually support us and understand what’s going on. It takes time, for sure. And a huge amount of patience with ourselves. We deserve that patience and compassion. I’m sure that if you had a friend in this situation, you would accept to follow their own pace and do your best to give them a space to exist as they want. It doesn’t give all the answer,s but sometimes it helps to ask ourselves: “what would I do/say if someone I love was in that situation?” <3
I don’t really talk to my husband anymore because I can’t find the words or the perfect moment to purge all of this to him.
Could it help you to write a letter to him at first, as a kind of exercise? Or eventually, talking to a therapist first, then seeing how you progress and try to talk to your husband? The very fact that you’ll see a therapist could also be a signal to your husband, even if not detailed.
The pain of being lonely in a marriage is far worse than truly being alone.
I hear you. I really do. Not mentioning that, with covid and lockdowns, the overall situation has been pretty exhausting for everyone last year - and still is. There are less opportunities to connect with each other, to go outside and spend time together, etc. It feels like everything is on hold and we’re stuck in a loop. I’ve been feeling that a lot lately, and honestly since I’ve started to open up to my partner - in a very vague way, I didn’t give any details and he knows I am on therapy -, we’ve found again some tenderness that was lost before. We’re still stuck in a loop of nothingness because of the current context, but there are those small moments again with a loving spark, you know? We’re definitely not seeing the end of the tunnel, but it gets better. That is, truly, all that I wish for you and your husband as well.
You know, something that has been bothering me lately is learning how to deal with this past trauma of mine. Ever since I’ve been trying to not use alcohol as a coping mechanism, I’m honestly not sure how to deal.
That makes sense, 100%. If you remove the only thing that allows you to not feel this pain and distress, then what? The very fact that you are lost is not at your disadvantage. It’s actually an opportunity to learn to do differently.
Honestly, I think distraction is not bad in itself. But there is distraction and distraction. There’s what could be healthy for you because it would help you to shift your focus on something different for a certain time and wouldn’t hurt you. And there’s what’s unhealthy and would only add more obstacles in your life in the long run.
Your first motivation when you look after a distraction is, I think, important. If it’s to run away from yourself, then it keeps you stuck in a cycle of avoidance, indeed, and that’s not going to help you in the long run. It would only be a temporary fix - and with time, this fix will be less and less effective, so you will need it more and more, and for more and more situations. Even if it helps at the moment, it makes your reality less and less bearable. So that’s what people mean when they say that it’s important to sit with your emotions. But, in practice, it’s not that easy, because we are not equipped yet (important word there ;)) to face that. It feels like throwing yourself in the middle of a battlefield with only a spoon to defend yourself. So it is, definitely, a process with many steps forwards and backwards. It’s totally natural to be tempted to run away, to hide, to numb ourselves. I’ve done that and keep doing that so many times. But 3 times become 2, then 1, then 0. Which is why having people around you to encourage you, to guide you eventually, but even more to support you, especially during rough times, is so important. A therapist for example, will be here to validate you when you are crippled with doubts, when the pain is too intense and you just want to crawl in.
On the other hand, a distraction can be healthy and, I think, very powerful if it stems out of a personal decision. It is a way to empower yourself when you are facing traumatic reactions that are, at first, beyond your control. When you go after a drink, it’s not by choice, it’s because you feel stuck with no other option. But if you decide to consciously distract yourself with something that wouldn’t erase your emotions either, you empower yourself. Now, it’s super scary to try. I personally feel a lot of hesitations whenever I have to cope with a triggered reaction. It requires conscious efforts and perseverance. And sometimes the best we can do is take a blanket and let ourselves cry.
But the more you put in place your healthy mechanisms, the more you let your personal “healing toolbox” grow, the more it will be easy for you to turn into those when you need it. It’s like exploring and learning to understand how you react, more and more, and what you need in those moments. With alcohol, you erase the possibility to learn and identify that. But those moments can be tough, which is why it’s so important to be helped - by a therapist, by our loved ones.
A good benefit of therapy is being allowed to explore and reflect on those things in a safe place, with someone who understands this process, where you wouldn’t be judged or having to be effective or to prove anything. It’s very messy at first, but you also experience a lot of “a-ha” moments, not even during the therapy sessions specifically, but also on your own. It’s 100% a space to explore and learn to know yourself better. Also to learn to trust others again with yourself. Traumas like sexual assaults stem from relationships. It breaks the trust that we have in people and this world. It brings an insane amount of grief. But it’s also through safe relationships that we can find some peace and healing.
It’s a little bit like being a tightrope walker, but with a very solid and protective net underneath you while you walk. You’ve walked for a long time without that safety net. Your next move could be to knit that one with the right people and in the right places. It doesn’t erase the fear of falling, but you know at least that you can try safely, and you are allowed to fail because it will help you to learn yourself more and more. To learn what are your strengths, but also your vulnerability.
Triggers and living in this kind of constant fear in the background make us feel like we’re living surrounded by landmines. But one by one, we learn to deactivate them. They’ll still be there, they’ll still represent something, but our perception of it becomes different, because we re-establish the balance between fear and strength. Your voice, your words, your emotions, are your very first strength. Which is why I’m so glad you are here in this community, sharing your heart.
Everyone says that I shouldn’t be distracting myself when those thoughts and memories rise to the surface - I shouldn’t grab the bottle and drown it away but… What am I supposed to do?
I guess it’s very different for everyone, so what I share is just a very few elements of my own perspective. For me personally, besides trying to identify triggers and take care of myself in a healthy way when in “crisis”, it’s more a kind of “background” and slow work.
For example, and you mentioned breathing, a lot of people suggest meditation and grounding techniques. And I get it. Some grounding ones helped me sometimes, but I have to be in a good mood and feel quite safe where I am already. If mindfulness can be beneficial, it’s not easy to access when you’ve been through traumas. If I am in a state of hypervigilance, I just can’t. Sitting on a chair, being surrounded by silence and focusing on my breathing feels like torture. So my first reaction is avoidance. My mind focuses on a quick fix, sometimes seemingly unhealthy, sometimes very unhealthy.
I don’t know if you like creating things/art in general, but for me personally it’s been an incredible outlet. It’s allowed me to learn to take my time more and more. To be patient with myself. To make mistakes. To express things I can’t express with words. To shift my focus if needed. To feel a sense of achievement. But even more to feel like I do and create something. Like… it’s mine. And there is something special in knowing that. It’s like learning and accepting to exist in a certain way.
This, and developping self-care routines (ooh, I’m a bad student for that, but we can only progress, right?). Progressively, I notice some changes here and there. Sometimes I crave for a moment of calm, which would have been absolutely impossible to conceive two years ago. Listening to ambient music? Hell, no! Having a walk outside in nature? Oh well, I would be so restless that I would like forcing myself to be outside and artificially enjoy it. Taking care of myself and taking my time felt distressing. And it still does, a lot of time. I’m really good at avoidance. But I’ve let people enter in my life, including a therapist, who has learned to know me and remind me when I’m spiraling. I’ve been also more and more aware of how I function, so I can take more preventive self-care actions, and not only curative ones.
I know this might sound a little bit vague and your questions are focused on practical actions. It’s mostly because what works for someone can be very different for someone else. In my position, I can only try to bring a little bit of hope because I’ve witnessed progress in my own journey. It’s far from being perfect and I’m not gonna lie, lately I’ve been a huge mess. But I don’t refuse help as I did before. I don’t try to shoulder everything by myself. I don’t always beat myself up when I’m not okay or triggered. I allow myself to cry when I need to, even if it feels endless or like dying sometimes.
Someone took a choice away from you a while ago. And somehow it keeps happening every time you are robbed of your well-being, your sense of safety, your emotions in the present moment. The difference is that now you are safe. Now you have a say on it. The triggers will still be there, but you can learn, progressively, to welcome, acknowledge and react in ways that would be more and more safe and not harmful for you. You clear the mines around you. And I believe, 100%, in your capacity to take the steps that are needed for that, also to receive the support you deserve during this journey.