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When You Feel 'Attached' to Your Trauma

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Everyone has a favorite thing or attachment. It could be an old, worn-out sweatshirt or perhaps your favorite pair of broken-in, ripped jeans. Maybe it is an old blanket or stuffed animal that has provided comfort over the years, or maybe it is a favorite picture, song, movie or book. It could be a place that provides you peace and serenity, ranging from your bathtub to a path through a forest. The list is individual and potentially endless. We cherish these things because they provide us with solace. They provide us with warm memories of times past, or words that are heard deep into our heart and soul. We are attached to them for those reasons and many more, and we would be disheartened if we were to lose them. If they were taken or given away or simply just gone, we might feel like we lost something close and important to us — something that provided us with what we needed for so long that it often feels like a part of us. I am most comfortable in a pair of old, comfy jeans and a tank top or t-shirt; however, living in Canada, I find much of my time in one of a few favorite sweatshirts.

• What is PTSD?

Just as I am attached to a few things and people, I am also attached to my trauma and subsequent behaviors. It took me a long time to realize this was not only the case with me, but with plenty of others as well. It seemed not to matter whether it was long-term childhood trauma or a one-time traumatic incident; we all adapted our behaviors in whatever manner was necessary in order to survive both the trauma and the post-trauma. I had a traumatic childhood and developed unhealthy coping mechanisms at a young age. These behaviors have been repeated so consistently over the years that they are ingrained in my brain; they are my instinctual reactions to emotional triggers.

These maladaptive behaviors are a part of my personality now, just as is my sarcasm and my sense of empathy and compassion, so the thought of losing a part of me leaves me feeling completely vulnerable. Not only do I have to unlearn decades of unhealthy coping mechanisms, I have to replace them with some newly learned skills which have yet to prove themselves effective enough for me now to go back into survival mode. I know what kept me safe for years, and what does to this day, but these new methods are not tried and tested enough to prove worthy of replacing something that has kept me alive for years.

In essence, I am attached to my trauma, and although I am learning to let it go and learning to react in healthier ways, my trauma is what I know. As damaging as it is, the familiarity brings some twisted sense of comfort. Besides, how do you get rid of something that is such a big part of your very being? How do you let go of who you think you are? These are all questions that continue to plague me, despite a few solid years of therapy. I understand the premise of replacing something bad with something good, but doing it consistently is a whole different ball park. Somehow, 40 years of negative reactions seem to swallow the “21-day theory” whole.

I think, for me, the key is breaking it down into smaller, more manageable behaviors and accepting that it is going to take a lot of time and a lot of repetition. Learning is one thing; unlearning and learning is another beast. I realize it is going to take constant practice, so I try one thing at a time. Having borderline personality disorder (BPD), being reactive is literally my greatest downfall and at times, the simplest of things can set me off. Take tone of text, for example… there is no tone to text and I often find myself adding my own tone based on my mood at the time. My instant trauma reaction is to text back and lose my shit, which hurts not only the receiver but me as well. Now, I have learned to try and turn my phone off, or put it far out of reach for the time I need to calm down to a point where I feel I am able to respond rationally, not emotively.

Letting go of your trauma is not easy but it is necessary to move forward on the path of healing. I think the problem a lot of us face is the fear of the unknown. Our trauma is familiar, and the unknown is scary and full of vulnerability, which makes us feel terrified and unsure. All I can do is try to let it go piece by piece and hope there are enough healthy coping mechanisms to fill in the holes. I have to remember my trauma happened to me; I am not my trauma.

Photo by Dmitry Schemelev on Unsplash

Originally published: April 9, 2019
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