It is one of those things that gets put into a box. When someone hears the word trauma, they typically have a preconceived notion of a few select things that a person must have gone through.
Many times they are right, because a select number of traumatic events are too common in our world. I want you to take about 20 seconds to think about what comes to your mind if someone said ‘I experienced a traumatic event’.
Okay. What did you come up with?
Abuse? Emotional or physical?
These are just a few that come to mind for many. However, what if I told you trauma is not a one size fits all scenario. What if I told you that trauma is catered to the individual?
Well I am here to tell you just that.
Trauma, is not a one size fits all.
Something that may have been traumatic to one person, may not be traumatic at all to someone else. While at the core of trauma there are criteria that must be met, trauma is still very different for each individual, yet all at the same time having overlapping symptoms.
According to the DSM-5 (the most recent edition of the diagnostic manual used today) trauma is explained as:
A direct personal experience of an event that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury, or other threat to one’s physical integrity; or witnessing an event that involves death, injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of another person; or learning about an unexpected or violent death, serious harm, or threat of death or injury experienced by a family member or other close associate. (APA, 2000, p. 463).
I am sure you can tell by reading that, there are a ton of variables that play a role in trauma and how a person may develop symptoms in relation to trauma.
I am not going into depth here in this blog about posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or anxiety, but I wanted to really give insight into trauma at its true core while using my own story to help some who have never experienced trauma to understand a little bit.
If you know me personally, odds are good you have received glimpses of my story or maybe you have heard my whole story. Even if you do know me and have heard my story, when you read this next part you may learn something new about me. I strive to be authentic in all that I do and this is no different.
Here is a part of my story.
I was 14 when I met him. I was 15 when we started dating. Looking back now, hind sight 20/20, there was trouble written all over this. I had dated numerous guys before him, nothing serious, and all within my age range.
He was 19, he was an adult, he had his license, was in college and I was a young teen, a child.
Casual is how it began, as most do. To evade my home life and I was taking that bus ticket to escape what I was in. Looking back now, I never loved him. Of course, I didn’t know that then, only something I realized after I found true love and grew up a bit. He was an escape from what I knew and provided a way for me to find freedom.
Freedom that I never found with him.
Casual at its core in the beginning, it was fun and light. We went to eat and our local car meet ups where tons of people would sit in parking lots and chat till the late hours of the night. We hung out watched TV, it was easy.
I never saw what was coming. It was so incredibly slow. I don’t think he even meant for it to turn into what it turned into, but it’s not an excuse, because it did.
Slowly, ever so slowly, it became more serious. He talked of our future together and for a while it sounded realistic.
You date, you get married, you have a life.
That’s how it was done. It wasn’t until I started to see through the fog and catch a glimpse of what was really happening.
Your partner, the one who you love, is supposed to be your light. They are supposed to bring you up when your down and be your strongest cheerleader.
That was not what I was getting. It wasn’t for a couple years that I began to see the light. At this point in time, I was 5’9” and 135 pounds. I ran cross country and track, I rode horses and was over all incredibly active. Yet I found myself having lower than ever before self-esteem.
I really had it made and couldn’t ask for much more in life right? However, when you hear things consistently like ‘you really don’t need that next slice of pizza’ or ‘no one could love you like I do’ over long periods of time, you start to believe it. It didn’t matter about the trips we took and how it looked from the outside. My sense of self was gone, I was held captive by words. I was what he told me I was, after all, I mean he said he loved me right?
One day, the smoke was gone and I was finished. I had tried to leave 3 times before unsuccessfully and being pulled back. This time though, I had suffered enough. By this point (I was 18) he was driving by my work to make sure I was where I said I was, checking paychecks and bank account statements to see where my money was going, I rarely saw friends or family, I was belittled at every turn from my looks to my intelligence level, and there would be no more of that, I was done.
I got what I could and left.
I started hanging out with a new guy as friends (irony has it he is now my husband), and he caught wind. He was less than thrilled, likely jealous, and that put him over the edge. After about a week I started receiving nasty messages, I would be in a store and he would see my car, pull into the store walk around and leave without purchasing anything. I called the cops, they said there was nothing they could do because it was in public places. He would show up to my (at this time) boyfriends work, and harass him by making comments knowing it would make my boyfriend mad. Leading to my ex being banned from the store. My co-workers learned to tell him I wasn’t there when he would come into the restaurant. Yet he would leave cards and notes for them to give me. He lied to every one of our mutual friends to turn them against me. My aunt found my pet rabbit on her driveway and left him baking in the sun with no warning (I was in FL, it was HOT) and no one knew he was there until my aunt got home around 4pm.
He wanted me isolated and alone.
This continued for 2 years. I would receive random messages etc.
Freedom, it’s mine.
I didn’t let that experience define my life. Yes, I went through the trenches and I was over my head for a while in emotions that were swallowing me whole.
I won’t lie to you and say it was an easy road for me; I won’t lie to you and say that I never have pain from this time in my life.
That would be a lie.
There are times when a car that looks like his old car drives by and I double take thinking he found me, I am numerous states away now yet it still always a thought. There are times when I have nightmares where I wake up terrified. Every time I go back to visit my dad I am in a heightened state of alert.
I would be lying if I told you it didn’t affect me. It did. On an incredibly deep level rooted in my subconscious.
While my situation fits a script that many others have gone through, trauma is unique.
Everyone is different and will handle it differently.
Why am I writing this? People need to know. They need to know that even when everything looks okay from the outside, someone’s world may be crumbling apart. Even when you think they have it made, they may be trapped and unable to breath in a situation that you have no idea about.
The world needs more kindness, and a lot less hate.
Be the change. The voice. Be the future.