Last Monday, I started reading Untamed by Glennon Doyle. Again. I read it last year when I was in a prolonged triggered-state by the investigation into my former teacher’s sexual misconduct—a gift from my bestie. I started reading it again last week because it was the only thing that made sense to me. And after finishing it this morning, I understand why I was so drawn to it.
Something happened last Saturday night that sent me into a triggered state, although it was hard to recognize as one. “Fucking freeze trauma response,” I keep muttering to myself. “Fucking trauma.”
Freeze is a trauma response in which your body responds to stimuli with immobility. I was conditioned from a young age to surrender to danger or anything I perceived as a threat. When I was a child, if one of my parents was yelling at me, if I even flinched, I was reprimanded and punished, commanded to stand immobile as they unleashed their tirade. It didn’t matter if they were throwing things at me or the wall, hitting things or breaking things. I was expected to remain statuesque, breathing quietly, not crying or whimpering or reacting in accordance with the fear coursing through my body. “Freeze” became my status quo as a child as young as five or six and continued to be my status quo throughout my teen years, on the night I was first raped…and is apparently still with me today.
Last Saturday night, I was with someone I’ve trusted and loved for more than half my life. There’s a part of me that’s always been drawn to them, partly out of nostalgia and partly because they were my first friend, introducing me to some of the greatest people and experiences I had in my teen years. And when we were alone, I said “no” to something—a “no” I’d first declared months ago when they first brought it up.
That “no” was disregarded. That “no” was something I forgot for the first several days after Saturday, too. I don’t know why—fucking trauma.
What happened last Saturday night shocked me, and it wasn’t until a few days later that I realized before I froze—before the shock—I’d said “no” to something. I’d said “no” to one of the people I’d always trusted the most, and that “no” was disregarded. When I remembered this moment a few days later, I was pissed.
I was pissed—I still am pissed—because it seems like the people I trust the most—those in my childhood, those I’ve loved the longest—are the ones who most readily trigger my freeze response. Because I trust them; because I should feel safe with them, whether they’re my parents or one of my oldest friends. Because when there’s an understanding of mutual love, trust seems like a self-evident piece of that relationship.
I’ve spent the past several days unpacking the last several years, seeing anew that the person I’d long thought I could trust with my life stopped being worthy of that trust long ago. I’ve spent the past several days grieving, too, because someone I’ve loved for over half my life showed me how little they love or respect me, or my voice. How little they understand my journey or stand by my side now, despite their promises from earlier this year. And I’ve spent the past several days grappling with what to call the whole incident, because as a survivor of so much sexual trauma, what happened Saturday night seems like “nothing” by comparison…but I know it was something. Fucking trauma.
When I talked to one of my best friends about it last Sunday, I described it as among the worst emotional pain in my life, comparing it to the night he found me dry heaving on the living room floor when I was 17 and learned the man who’d been repeatedly raping me was “making a move” to groom a girl even younger than I was. I didn’t know it last week, but the reason what happened Saturday hurt me so badly—so comparably to the pain years ago of finding out I was likely one of many of that serial predator’s victims—is because life was forcing me to take a closer look at a brutal truth. Several brutal truths, actually.
And one of those truths is that I have to let someone I’ve loved deeply since I was barely 13 go.
That someone gave me some of the most beautiful memories in the hardest years of my life. If I’m honest about the years since then, though, I’ve given them so many pieces of myself and they’ve taken, and taken, and taken…and I kept loving them anyway. What happened last Saturday showed me I can’t love them anymore, I can’t give them any more of me.
I can’t love someone who treats me like they chose to do. It’s a capability I lack and I don’t want, because it’s a capability I spent a lot of time trying to rid myself of.
I didn’t deserve what they did. And now, they don’t deserve any of me.
In reading Untamed again, this quote jumped out at me.
“Life is brutal”—it’s full of heartbreak and sorrow.
“…but it’s also beautiful”—that heartbreak and sorrow I have now is because I’m alive, I’ve loved, and I’ve lost.
“Life is brutiful.”