Rip the bandage off–fine hair, old scabs, new wounds–hold your breath and pull.
We’ve all got some nasty scars around here. There are abuses, neglect so profound we hungered, sexual assaults, beatings, death and generalized trauma ten miles deep so we don’t know where it’s from.
We’re all surviving wars and have battle wounds which reveal themselves in the glimmer of our eyes. Sometimes we show them. Sometimes those old hurts and by extension, we ourselves, are better understood by revealing our pain and sometimes not. Sometimes we are rejected for our sufferings which makes us suffer again and we wonder how to keep going.
But we do–we do keep going.
Recently I found a beautiful tattoo of truth which freed me under a bandage–hiding in the scars of me. Like most things important, it happened in an ordinary way without a warning bell so the experience was pure revelation. I stood in the back of a lecture room and heard the professor describe how one can tell the difference between a victim and an abuser. I experienced an opening I could not stop. I heard the words, saw the list of behaviors and knew–I am a victim reliving trauma in my most intimate relationships. I am causing myself to be victimized by my own actions and choices.
Later that day I saw the rest of the revelation: I have only two approaches, combatant or unreasonable accommodation maker.
Because I assume on a sub conscious level that I will be victimized I begin fighting that inevitability, really, before the relationship even begins. Here’s an example: I get invited on a date and I immediately begin taking charge of time, place and plan to avoid being seen as a push over, as a victim. I become strident about this almost immediately and fight hard to show dominance so he won’t be able to hurt me. It doesn’t work. Then I become conciliatory and make accommodations that are unreasonable. I can feel it as an anxiety in my stomach, as an unreasonable level of excitement or dread yet I feel compelled to continue. Within weeks I am tearing myself limb from limb like the poor starfish who becomes too stressed when overly handled and rips herself apart. The relationship fails, I fail and vow never to be involved in an intimate or romantic relationship again because it either, “Doesn’t work for me” or is “too painful.”
I used to approach all elements of my life this way. I was hyper vigilant and a combatant at work, with friends and family and sometimes in the check out line if I felt disregarded by the clerk or the person in front of me. Fortunately that’s mostly all faded as I began to understand that the world and all those people didn’t really hold any particular opinion about me and had no reason to harm me.
Then I met “him”. From the moment I heard his voice on the phone I flared and felt my body tense up ready to fight. I was too excited to see him next but then immediately began battling when in his presence. I couldn’t understand it since we seemed compatible in so many ways. I chalked it up to nerves. But I could not control it. I obsessed, I apologized, I argued, I battled and then began all over again. The more he pulled away the harder I fought and ran after him. I felt shame more than love and panic more than joy.
Something was deeply wrong. I could not stop.
Then standing in the back of that lecture room the truth finally came to sit with me about how I see myself as a victim and react as one. The wheel of trauma cycles all over again. The thing I was most afraid of I was causing to happen.
In seeing this I question: what if I decided that being a victim is not true for me? What if I have many more options in intimate relationships besides being a combatant or accommodating? What is it that draws me to the victim/oppressor roles? Finally, what does a relationship without those things look like?
I don’t have all those answers for me yet. But I can see how trauma gives birth to trauma. When we are afraid we make the kinds of decisions we would not make when we are calm and neutral.
It may feel like a stretch but let’s go from my micro love life example to the macro of police violence for a second: When a young, black male is being stopped by police officers in Fergusen or Baltimore he may choose to run and he may be injured or killed. The trauma he experienced before running is real-he has seen black men killed by police. His reaction is also reasonable based on that trauma. He has reason to believe he will not be treated fairly because he has witnessed this. But one thing is certain-if he acts on his fear and trauma and runs, something bad will most likely happen. If he doesn’t react that way, that bad thing is less likely. If he is not in a state of trauma he will play to the better odds–we all will.
If we understand how trauma hooks and holds us, how it lies and makes past hurts more magnified, how it says that whatever has happened in the past will continue to happen in the future–then we can understand why we do the things we do. Understanding it in others and observing it in ourselves is how it stops.
Seeing the truth changes everything.
Let’s rip the bandage off and compare our scars. Let’s take what we thought made us ugly and let it make us into a community of beautiful creatures who have scars but are not defined by them. Does this seem possible?