Thursday, 3 January 2013

Love, loneliness and trust

Hello again to all my readers. I had a good vacation, but it's also good to be back. I wish you all the best for the new year!

I spent the week-and-a-bit that I was away with my head deliberately stuck in the sand. We cut ourselves off from radio, TV and newspapers, and even ignored out cellphones most of the time. I banned my history and any form of child-abuse as topics of conversation. We immersed ourselves in the beauty of nature and in each other. It was wonderful. I managed to go an entire week without one nightmare.

Of course, I knew all the time that I'd have to pull my head out of the sand and face up to reality again. PTSD will always catch up with you. Real life is full of triggers. But I learned something: I caught a glimpse of what life can be - a life that is centred around love and hope, not fear and pain. A life without loneliness.

Sadly, I came back to find that a fellow survivor has become so consumed by his own disconnectedness and loneliness, that even just communicating with other survivors have become too triggering for him to keep up. He made me think back to the boy I was - the scared, lonely boy who believed that there wasn't a single person in the entire world who cared, or would ever care one bit what became of him. I remember the intensity of the pain that loneliness caused. I remember the emptiness of being in a world, populated with millions of people, none of which you can connect to.

It made me think - loneliness is the one thing most survivors have in common. It's not always as intense as it is for this one survivor, but we all struggle to connect, to open up, to be vulnerable. When you can't be vulnerable, you inevitably drift towards loneliness. The only conclusion I could come to, is that if we want to not live our lives consumed with loneliness, we need to learn to be vulnerable.

But how do we break the cycle of isolation and loneliness? How do we reach out? How do we find the courage to be vulnerable? The only answer I can come up with, is slowly. It took me almost two years from when I met my girlfriend before I felt comfortably enough to open myself up to a romantic relationship with her. I'm still learning to trust her. I opened up to her one tiny bit at a time. Often, she asked for more and I had to tell her that I wasn't comfortable giving more yet. I know I hurt her in the process. There were days when she despaired, believing that I could never let her in or commit to her. I wish I could have avoided that, but I had to know she could handle one bit before I could give her the next.

More importantly - I had to know that I could handle her knowing one bit, before I could give her the next.

The lesson I want to pass on to survivors is this: you don't need to trust anyone and everyone, but you need to give someone an opportunity to earn your trust. You will never know if you can trust a kid to put away her toys if you keep putting it away for her. You will never know if you can trust your partner with the details of your abuse if you're not willing to show her some of your scars and see how she reacts. You have to trust her with a little, to begin with. This is the scary part, because she hasn't had any chance to win your trust yet and so you are doing it blindly. You may get hurt - that is why you can keep the bit you show her as small as you need it to be, but you need to show her something. I believe that it is up to the survivor to break the cycle of mistrust and isolation and to kick off the process that will enable her to earn your trust.

To loved ones of supporters, I want to say please be patient. Showing you that first bit was terrifying. Handle it with care, for how you handle this will influence how much more he'll be willing to tell you. If he pulls the curtain an inch away from the edge of the window and allows you to catch a small glimpse of the chaos inside, take a peek, don't don't demand that he open the door and let you in immediately. We have been hurt, disrespected, discarded and discounted so much, for so long, that you will really have to prove you are different. No, it's not fair - you deserve the benefit of the doubt, but it's the best we can do. So please, have the grace to take the tiny nugget he has given you, treasure it, keep it safe and treat it with nothing but gentle kindness. If you do that, he may feel comfortable to give you more in future. But if you treat it carelessly, it may be all you'll ever get.

If both of you work at it with patience and courage, and with a little luck, you may one day spend a week, a month, a lifetime loving, laughing and making new, happy memories. You can banish the loneliness to the distant past and replace it with love. It is possible. I saw it last week. I looked into the eyes of the woman I love, and I knew that she has the power to banish the loneliness that still threatens to break down the door to my life.

I'm so glad that I found the courage somewhere, somehow, to let her in.

1 comment:

  1. Very good advise. Rees only told me of his abuse about 10 years ago and we have been married for 27 years, and have known each other 36 years.

    We have thankfully worked thru most of it. I know there are details he is still not willing to share and thats ok. He is well on his healing journey and he is now helping me face my demons.

    Having an understanding partner makes all the difference.

    Believe it or not we spent most of our week at the coast watching "Criminal Minds" series 1 to 4 and many of the stories relate to childhood abuse. Some were triggering for both of us especially for Rees when children were involved. We could never have done that 5 years ago.

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