Going through trauma therapy is a lot harder than I anticipated. Shocking, I know. I’m not sure what I was expecting; I’m not sure I was really expecting anything. It’s certainly not as easy as taking a pill and getting rid of the memories or erasing all the ways it shows up in your life now.
What I’m learning is that in order to get past the trauma, you first have to dive deep into it.
And that’s hard.
Memories on Fire
Working through trauma sends me right back to the memories that I’ve kept locked up in a place reserved for things I’m trying to forget.
One by one, I’m bringing these things out of that locked box and addressing them head on. With the force of a freight train headed to who knows where, I’m reliving each moment and analyzing it to understand, process and hopefully move on.
For the time being I’m in the thick of it again, and the worst moments of my life are on repeat. My dreams are drenched in memories and alternative realities, and my waking hours feel like hangovers with the buzz of those feelings plotting to escape just below the surface.
Everything is relevant again.
Everything is relevant again. A song that reminds me, a word that triggers me, a thought that sinks me. It feels like I’m back in China, wading through the haze of the aftermath and blindly putting the pieces back together after everything I thought I knew was shattered.
It makes my brain feel foggy. My thoughts aren’t making much sense these last couple of weeks. I go into another session with my therapist tomorrow and last week was a heavy session. I had to stop rambling, pull back, and say “This isn’t making any sense, is it?” She didn’t confirm or deny.
“I’m glad you said that. Let’s do some EMDR to process all of this.”
We did. And the tears came. The panicky heat in my chest rose and came back with a fierceness reserved for the feelings I avoid. And the slow suction of all my energy began again.
It’s no wonder I’ve been feeling depressed. But you know what I want more than to not feel depressed? I want to get over this and leave it behind me, even if that means draining my energy stores and being a little emotionally unavailable for a little while. I know I’ll come out better and stronger on the other side, but it takes some work and some mistakes and some pain to get there.
As I mentioned in a previous post, before we got in the thick of this trauma therapy, which according to my therapist has a timeline and we’ve just entered the most intense phase, I tried my hand at dating again. It was dramatic, needlessly dramatic. I seemed to attract people and situations that were intense and messy.
What am I doing to attract this?
And it got me thinking– what am I doing to attract this? How am I doing such a good job at finding exactly what I don’t need right now? It’s not conscious, and it doesn’t feel purposeful, but I don’t really believe in coincidences.
It’s not a coincidence that lately the warning signs and red flags are getting higher and weirder and a little bit crazier. It cannot be a coincidence that while I am emotionally turmoiled, I am also attracting people who are attracted to vulnerable women or have equally overwhelming baggage.
It’s not a coincidence. It’s simply because I am part of the problem.
I resisted admitting this, for several reasons. Too often, I blame myself for things that are out of my control, but the part of my ownership in this situation is different. It’s not about blame. It’s about the decisions I make and who I choose to have in my life.
The good news about being part of the problem is that it means I’m part of the solution. But can you find a solution if you don’t know the answer to why? Why I do this? Why I do what I know I shouldn’t?
Sometimes you have to recognize your own bullshit. Thinking about all of this, and owning my decisions, moving beyond them and diving into memories has had me thinking about one of the most pivotal moments in my life that involved me ignoring my gut.
Bad Decisions in China
When I was twenty two, I had just moved to China and started seeing a guy who was a few years older than me. He was an expat, an artist, and in China to teach and pursue his passions on the side.
As it goes, I knew he was trouble from the moment I met him. So, of course, I couldn’t help myself. He was sexy and mysterious, and had that cocky-better-than-everyone-else air about him that a part of me found attractive as hell. To add gasoline to the fire, he had an irresistible accent and was absolutely and completely a misunderstood rebel without a cause.
The “I’m Special” Fallacy
*Swoon* for the naive, overly optimistic 22-year old version of myself. He and I were all the cliches folded into one flimsy package with no address.
His attention felt special because he was the type who would openly judge anyone he crossed paths with. He was vocal with his insults to servers, students, and his colleagues, often so sly in his remarks that the victim would rarely register that he was making fun of them in the first place.
He loved fucking with people and was unabashed with the skillful disdain of someone who simply does not give any fucks. Part of me, the midwestern nice girl with a bleeding need to please everyone, cringed every time he’d be condescending to an innocent bystander. The other part of me was stunned and impressed by the ease in which he simply did not care. I care too much most of the time, so the ability to not care? Teach me your ways.
Him, giving even the smallest fuck about me, made me feel special. Simple as that.
Dumb? Yes. True? Very.
It gets worse.
I waited to sleep with him for a while. We went on several dates, hung out numerous times, slept in the same bed, and finally, after weeks of holding out and him convincing me– I slept with him.
It was awkward but fun and exciting like many first times are but all in all, I felt like it was a pretty good experience. He, on the other hand, made it a point to put me down almost immediately afterward.
“You fuck like a pornstar,” he said as we lied there, naked and covered in a sheen of sweat on his purple silk sheets. “That’s so sad. You need to learn how to really fuck. I’ll train it out of you.”
Sad, poor, American girl ruined by puritans, abstinence education, porn and ideas of what sex is supposed to be. He’d help me get through that. He’d come in and be my sexual hero– saving me with his experience and purple silk sheets.
But what’s grosser is I believed him. I believed I needed him. In my head, he was absolutely right. I’d been doing it wrong. He wanted to help me, make me better. I even believed I was actually lucky that he would be so bothered to take the time, in his words, to retrain and mold me.
It gets worse.
The cringe-worthy ick factor increases.
Shaming me after I was vulnerable and intimate with him, did not come remotely close to registering as a red flag for me. His confidence in putting me down felt validating to the tiny person in me that believed I deserved this kind of love.
The Warning Signs I Ignored
A few days later he had a party. He invited me, and since I was new to the city– to the country– I was excited to meet more people and make friends with expats.
Even more than that I couldn’t wait to be with him. I was so excited for people to see us together at his party. I brought snacks, and booze, and all the enthusiasm of a naive girl in love. When I arrived, I hugged and kissed him and kind of stood there, expectantly waiting for him to show some kind of recognition that I was the one he’d been waiting for all night.
It didn’t come. He insulted my dress and asked me why I didn’t put on something sexier. I made mental note of it as an area for improvement and then he floated around as I tried to meet some new friends.
I started talking to a guy I had seen around a few times, Brian. He was from Wuhan, spoke decent English, and excitedly shared with everyone that he was gay and in love with nearly every foreign man he met.
As I sat there and talked to him, I watched as the guy I thought I was dating go into his bedroom with a girl I’d never seen before and his best friend. I watched and felt my insides turn into numbing, hallowed out chunks of ice.
Threesomes & Blame
Brian noticed my eyes following the thrupple as they went into the bedroom.
“You know what they’re doing right? They’re so crazy.” He winked and his face lit up with the newfound scandal.
I nodded. “Good for them,” I said with a smile plastered on my face.
That wasn’t enough to make me turn and run.
Watching the guy I was seeing leave his own party to have a three-way wasn’t enough to prove to me that he wasn’t what I needed. I didn’t storm out, I didn’t even get up to leave. I just sat there, frozen to my seat and contemplated all the things I felt.
What did you expect? You knew he wasn’t hanging out with you to date. Admit it– you wanted to change him– be good enough for him that he’d want to date you anyway. You should have seen this coming. He made it clear that he’s into this shit. You did this to yourself. How can you be mad at him for being who he is? You did this. You asked for this. You’re only mad because he doesn’t like you enough to not have a fucking threesome right in front of you. Your expectations are the problem, he isn’t.
Thanks for the support, Chloé.
But now what? Should I have left? Or should I have just stayed and acted like I didn’t care? Maybe I should have drank until I had the balls to tell him how it made me feel?
I eyed the bottles of alcohol and the people drinking. That was appealing but I knew that wasn’t the solution. I’d end up acting like an idiot and saying things I couldn’t take back.
So I stayed while my heart and my gut told me to get out of there. I stayed so that it seemed like I wasn’t hurt, and that I didn’t care.
Eventually when the three exited his room, with smirks and secrets on their lips, he came and sat down next to me. I smiled and tried to act normal as my brain screamed.
He looked at me, watching me for some kind of read. I hoped I was showing that I had hardly noticed.
“You did this,” he said.
It felt like I had just sprinted into a brick wall. I could practically feel the whoosh of the air leaving me simultaneously winded and blown away.
That was it. What the fuck did that mean? Did he just read my mind? Is it that obvious?
He waited for a reaction, and I just sat there and thought about how to react. All I could think was “he’s right.” He said what I had been thinking only minutes before.
You did this to yourself. You knew exactly who he was, and you opted in anyway.
I mustered a smile that probably looked more like a grimace and gave a weak nod of my head. He let out a short, sharp laugh, got up, and left me to process on the couch.
What’s worse is we ended up dating after that.
We got engaged.
I loved him.
And what’s worse is it was abusive and what’s worse is I believed I was the problem.
And the truth is? I was part of the problem.
Can you complain or be surprised or be hurt when you made your bed and let him sleep in it?
Yes, and no.
There was deceit but part of the deceit I played on myself.
I could have ended it before it started.
There were red flags I could have recognized before romance was ever even on the table.
I could have opted out so many times in the early stages of our dating, but I kept opting in, over and over again.
The red flags looked like opportunities for growth, and because of that, I found myself in a mentally and physically dangerous place.
I made choices that made me a victim, and I couldn’t see that until I was removed from the situation entirely.
It’s hard to see the danger you’re in when you’re in it. What’s much easier is to set up boundaries before you ever even meet someone. It’s much easier to recognize what you can and can’t handle before you have to activate that knowledge in real time.
I now know that someone disrespecting other people, is a sign that they would disrespect me.
Someone trying to convince me to bend my boundaries and sleep with them sooner than I’m ready means they do not care about the boundaries I’ve put in place in order to feel safe.
I know that if they don’t respect my boundaries, that means that they do not care if I feel safe.
I also now know that if I don’t have clear boundaries, and don’t know my own boundaries, then it’s very easy to find myself in a situation like that all over again.
That is where responsibility comes into play. I recognize my own role and that I am and was part of the problem. Those boundaries are exactly what I’m working to build now.
Let’s translate this into recent events. Where is my fault?
Someone lying to you, is not your fault.
If someone films you without your knowledge, that is not your fault.
Getting stalked, and followed and harassed, is not your fault.
Someone making fake social media accounts so they can know what you’re doing even after you’ve blocked them– that is not your fault.
Receiving threats, getting gaslighted or someone making you feel unsafe, that is not your fault.
But let’s think about some of the things that might actually be on you. Be on me.
What I Must Take Responsibility For
Going against your own best judgement or gut– that’s on you.
Deciding to pursue someone who you know is emotionally unavailable, and carries burdens you can’t hold. That’s on you.
Knowing someone is emotionally abusive and deciding to dive in head first– that’s on you too.
Believing you can change someone because you are that special, that different, that strong– that’s on you.
Ignoring the warning signs and bending your boundaries so that you seem cooler or chiller than you actually are– that’s on you.
Pretending that the lust you feel might mean more even though you know, in your heart of hearts that it is just lust– that’s on you.
Deciding to keep seeing someone who does not respect you, who does not have your best interests in mind, who does not treat you in the way you treat them– that’s on you, babe.
Not knowing what you want, not having clearly defined boundaries or needs, and pretending that you do– that’s on you.
Fucking a person who is emotionally unstable and has shown time and time again to have bad judgement, shit impulses and no regard for what you want?
Baby cakes, with all the love in my heart, that is on you. No matter how charming. No matter how sexy or fun. That is on you.
I don’t always make the best decisions. But I’m learning. And owning my decisions, is helping me to move forward.
I’m looking inward for answers. I’m trying to understand why I seem to be drawn to negativity, projects or misunderstood men that end up consuming what I think are good intentions. It begins with understanding what it is I actually need, and building boundaries based off that knowledge.
It’s a Chinese saying that translates to take it easy or take it slowly. It’s one of the phrases I would use constantly while I lived in China. And that’s this. That is the process. Slowly, I am rebuilding. It will happen, even if it’s one step at a time. Slowly, I’m making this happen.