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“Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives.” Bessel van der Kolk

The Fear of other Adults, it's just not logical

The fear, the sense of terror, the anxiety riddling my body just never made sense as an adult. 

I’d ask myself repeatedly why couldn’t I manage “normal” adult responsibilities? Why couldn’t I get into a routine and keep it? Why did other people scare the living daylights out of me on one hand but on the other hand we could be instant friends? Quite frankly none of it made any logical sense at all. 

Oh, and we can’t forget the times I said yes before I even thought things through, when I should have been able to say no. Then if I dig deeper there were the years of what we now know is people pleasing. Meeting other people’s needs before they even knew they had those needs. 

I remember saying to a relative I’d be down to pick the kids up after school. I’d already worked out they’d need help with the kids after the death of a spouse and their return to work. At the time they said no, they’ll be fine, then once they’d had time to think things through they realised they would need help.  I don’t think it would take any of us long to compile a list of how often, when and what incidents we’d thought of other people’s needs before our own. 

Coming to understand all these responses are bound up in a repeated trauma response developed in childhood, from Adverse Childhood Experiences, ACE’s, Childhood Abuse and Neglect if we don’t dance around the wording overly much, has changed the direction of my recovery.

Working through Recovery alone is not the healthy answer

Generations of dysfunctional family practices, generations of abandonment, no emotional language or recognition for who I am all collided and I lost everything. I couldn’t walk unaided, I couldn’t talk, I lost my memories, needed a full time carer and there were no medical answers. Thank goodness for facebook groups.

I don’t know how long it took me to walk up the hallway, across the dining room, the kitchen and into my office chair, but I began to do it daily. Always praying I wouldn’t fall over because I didn’t know how I would get back up again.

Even though I couldn’t talk, I began to help other people with the information I’d learned over the previous years of self discovery. Working away on the computer helped me to bring back some of my verbal memory because I could use a thesaurus to find words I couldn’t think of.

The people I met online were truly wonderful. Having the connection to others in the world helped me have hope I could find answers to what was wrong with me. They were my encouragers when I couldn’t leave the house, when all the friends had fallen away, talking with them gave me a hope that one day I’d find my way back to good health.  

Relational not Relationships

When I first read complex trauma occurs in the context of a relationship, therefore I need to heal in the context of a relationship I thought I was screwed from ever fully healing. All I could think about was I’m never going into a relationship again. Me in a relationship was like chaos and disaster deciding to get married and believing the happily ever after would begin right after they said their vows to each other. You know, because, after all I knew how to do chaos and disaster really, really well and not only know how to do it, I could survive it on a daily basis too.

More about chaos and disaster another time. The absolutely, blow me away, fantastic news is I don’t need to be in a relationship of the being married and committed variety to fully heal. Phew! The key word here is relation or relational – having a relationship with other people that goes beyond the surface level “g’day, how’s your mothers chooks?”  (Aussie slang for hello, how are you, how’s things going?)

Relationships where you actually care about each other, through the damn tough times, love and accept each other warts and all, even when both of you know you’ve done or about to do a stupid thing, or maybe you don’t know what you’re about to do will have disastrous results. Genuine, solid friendships like this, where only you and the besties know where the body’s are hidden because you helped each other bury them, are the stuff of a messy, fulfilling, exhilarating, challenging life. Even from your armchair or bed or desktop computer. 

Why? Because all the people involved do their own internal, self reflecting work, everyone owns their disappointments, their negative emotions, their childhood trauma, their mental illness, their failings and manage to navigate through love, acceptance, forgiveness, stand loyally with each other and take personal responsibility for the choices they make. Thankfully, not all in one day. 

They key here is time. Robust relationships take time. They value honesty. I was once was pretty critical of one of my best friends for staying with a husband who wasn’t doing anything about his personal addiction. I had a zero tolerance level for people who are adults and they keep repeating the same disruptive behaviour that hurts other people repeatedly. Thankfully on our next coffee meet up I told her how sorry I was for being so rude, and both of us ended up in tears. Time. We all need time to find our way through our mess. Me included. She needed time too, to work out what the direction was to be for her life as well. They’re still married, he stepped up and made choices, and I love him dearly. 

 

The Alone in Loneliness

The friendships I just described are very real now. I hear you, I see you and I understand if you are feeling alone, lonely, and loneliness bites big in your life. It did for me, twice now, in my life. Upon reflection loneliness, for me, was a natural state of being. We had no social media growing up, and complex ptsd definitely leaves us with social deficits, however twice in my adult life I literally lost all my friends through divorce and it hit hard.  Dull, aching, empty I’m not equipped to know how to deal with this hard. 

I would never wish on anyone the gaping sense of aloneness in a world that is so populated. We are wired to desire to be fully known and fully accepted. So what do you do when everything crumbles in life, and even your best friend, the last one remaining, runs off with your exhusband? You decide if you want to remain alone or you want to learn how you can venture out into life safely again, believing in the intrinsic goodness of life despite what life experiences have shown you up until now.

For me I was intuitively led to a community of people who help out in the community. I couldn’t interact much initially, and I still get crippled with shyness at times, but what I did was spend time looking around for something I could do without falling to pieces. I went to a group each week where we chatted about all things life and eventually I helped out in the café simply collecting money or cleaning tables. This meant all I needed to do was smile and keep moving in another direction. Talking was just too hard at that time. However, the minimal interaction helped me begin to regulate my emotions over time just by being around people.

The other plus was I developed an emotionally safe online peer support group and together, again over time, we have thrived and bring others along too who are seeking to move from surviving to thriving. I’ve just taken us off social media so we can grow again into a flourishing community of peer support without the hassles of social media. Come and join us here as we are a wonderful bunch of people who understand not only what you’re recovering from but where you want to be too.

Fear doesn't Win, Courage Does

Riddled with fear of, well, everything, I wondered how on earth any part of my life could come together after losing so much. I tell our global family, just take the one next step, even when we don’t know the outcome of the one next step, even when we don’t know how to take the one next step, take it. Take it even if we fall over, because together we’re going to get back up again. 

I created our on line community because I used to have to take my one next step, with an overwhelming fear of what’s going to happen if I fall over? No one is home, I’ll find it really hard to get back up, and so afraid that it’d mean if I fell over I’d never recover. Despite the fears, the anxiety, the panic attacks, I kept choosing to take another step. Just one, literally. To this day I can still remember the moment I made it up and down my hallway 4 times in one day. Exhausted I fell back into bed with a smile on my face. I knew if I could make it up and down and across the house and back 4 times then somehow, someway I was going to recover from I knew not what. 

And I believe you also can recover from now we know what, Complex Ptsd caused by Childhood Developmental Trauma, passed on for many generations before us.

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