I regret those times when I’ve chosen the dark side. I’ve wasted enough time not being happy. – Jessica Lange
Every writer can point to that one piece of writing that changed everything. For me, it was a piece titled: Safety.
What is “Safety” about? Here’s a snippet: “One of the most important things that my current therapist taught me simply by being the type of therapist she is that no matter what you’re going through, kindness goes a long way and your illnesses don’t define you.” An invaluable lesson taught by an invaluable therapist.
One thing I’ve learned over the years is that trauma fractures our brain’s ability to comprehend, and as a result, make informed decisions.
A few days ago, I told an old friend something I won’t ever forget. I said to him: “You don’t want me as a friend, because Jim, something inside me is broken. Sick. You were my friend, and all I ever did was use what this man did to me as an excuse, as an outlet, to hurt people. I won’t stand by and hurt the people that mean something to me because I don’t know how to move past this! So lose my number and stay as far away from me as you possibly can. I am beyond help. I don’t deserve it.”
His jaw dropped and he responded saying: “This isn’t you. I have never seen you this broken before. The Mike I knew was confident and would take down anyone standing in his way that meant harm to him. You used to intimidate me. Are you going to push Chloe away, too?! You push your therapist away and I promise you, you’re going to do something you can’t come back from.”
I laughed and responded: “I’m not going to have this conversation again. When I said every life is best kept away from mine, that means hers as well.” Confused, he asked: “What the hell did this guy do to you?! I swear, it’s bullshit. She’s your therapist, she cares. All you have to do is reach out, and she can help you! She would never turn you away.” I walked away saying “Maybe she’s just as wrong as you are about who I am. Maybe you two are the ones that don’t know what you’re talking about.” All I heard in the distance was: “You’re a sweet person, Mike, she’s not wrong about that, you’re just not thinking straight. He’s in your head.”
I turned around angrily and told him to stop talking. “If Chloe were here, what would you say to her?!” He asked.
“I’d tell her that she agreed to be the therapist of someone whose recovery was based on a foundation that was a lie. She signed on to be a jerk’s therapist. I was an asshole to people, and now I’m just a damaged asshole who uses that man’s excuse because he can’t move on.” I said, with a deeper voice than usual.
“Tell me something. If Chloe or I went through the same thing, would you be there for us? Would you ever leave?”
I rolled my eyes and said: “No. I wouldn’t leave her side, or yours. But I’m telling you, I’m not asking you, I’m telling you. Before I infect the both of you, stay away from me.”
“There we go. She was right. You’re kind. But she dedicated months to treating you. So I think she gets to decide if she leaves. Same with me. I’m your brother.”
Annoyed, I took my phone out, deleted both of their numbers and said “I’m not having this conversation again. Stop talking. I’ve given you examples of over ten different therapists and friends who bailed because Jim, they knew what was good for them.”
As I walked away for the final time, he cursed and said “That’s because those were awful therapist and friends, Mike. I swear, she’s the one you have to listen to.“
I woke up on the floor again, sweaty and having had nightmares. “Is it me, and I just don’t get it?! Was he right about Chloe and the other lives that I touch?”
I don’t know, but what I do know is that I’ve seen parts of myself in someone else before and they let their abuser get into their head so much that no friend, family member or therapist was ever able pull them out of their darkness. Eventually, that person died.
Reading “Safety” this afternoon was me taking a leap of faith. After my last therapy session, I saw a small part of who I was resurface and it all came back to me. I wanted so much to hold onto anything that reminded me of the happier version of myself. I remembered things I’d written in the past.
- The choices we make are a reflection of who we are.
- You’re your own worst enemy.
- Strength is nothing without hope.
- An abuser will stop at nothing to convince you that h/she’s all you’ve got.
- The only way out of a difficult situation is through the mysterious door. You can’t take the easy way out.
It’s like I once said: sometimes, you have to fall in order to see the best possible path forward. If you’re not scared, if you’re not falling and failing, then you’re not trying.
The tricky part about trauma is that it convinces you that either you’ve changed or that the people around you have changed their opinions of you. Avoid processing that, and you’ll lose sight of the fact that neither of those things are actually true. Yes, your brain changes, but you as a person don’t. How you feel impacts the way you think and react. It’s as simple as that.
Recovery is never about the absence of symptoms. It’s one’s willingness to move past a situation in spite of them.
I woke up a second time today while taking a bath and you know what I heard? My therapist telling me everything she thought about who I was only a few sessions into when we first met. It’s my brain’s way of saying “You turned your mistrust on the wrong person.” Startled, I stood up quickly, looked at my face in the mirror and realized a truth I’ve been keeping myself from seeing.
The interesting thing about beliefs about ourselves after trauma is the same as that of jewels. It’s the shiniest ones that look most convincing, but those are lies.
Does it mean I think that this man was wrong? No. It simply means I’ve broken one thing down; my mistrust.
As Ted Mosby says: “You may think your only choices are to swallow your anger or throw it in someone’s face, but there’s a third option: you can just let it go, and only when you do that is it really gone and you can move forward.“
It’s strange, but it’s also kind of wonderful. All it took was one moment and everything changed so drastically. I wound up shame eating a bunch of sushi last night and tonight I made a huge discovery: if you keep giving up on things so quickly, you’re going to miss out on some of the best parts of life that can shape you into who you are. It wasn’t anything, big, right? It was just a memory of what Chloe had once said. That’s the thing about life, though. The smallest things are what sometimes have the deepest impact.