Christy Bloemendaal

@ctbloem | contributor
Christy writes about chronic illness, mental illness and social justice. She wants to shape the future, heal the world, and find greater wellness. You can find her in front of her television or on her yoga mat most days (with her yappy little dog, Naboo, at her side), but also at www.learningtobewhole.com, where she offers her heart and her ideas. 
Community Voices
Kai
Christy Bloemendaal

Seeing My Abuser During the Holidays Is Weakness, Not Strength

You’re so strong. That’s the response I often get when people realize I have been through years of childhood sexual abuse and somehow survived.  And in many ways, I am strong. I did survive. It is miraculous and a testament to my will to go on and to not be bested by the terrible acts of another. I’ve overcome a lot of terrible acts of another. The other day I was at my food psychologist’s office, and we usually talk about my mental health only in the context of my relationship to food, but since I was recently hospitalized for psychiatric care, he delved deeper into the psyche than the usual.  He kept saying I could talk with him about what happened and why I felt like I needed that extra care — because I see a psychologist every week, a psychiatrist every eight weeks and a food psychologist every month, so one would think my emotional and mental state would be pretty well-managed. I finally told him more, because he seemed to genuinely want to know. I told him how afraid I felt when I was being intimidated by some people, because I had always assumed that I had to choose abusive partners to feel intimidated in that way. I found out the night I went to the hospital that wasn’t true. People can hurt you no matter how you try to safeguard your life from abuses. And I have been trying to safeguard my life since childhood. There it was.  The inevitable “childhood” admission. The “shocker” that always hits people in the gut. And then I expressed my family history included chronic, years-long, severe sexual abuse that has been a black cloud hanging over us for decades. And that the upcoming holiday included me trying to explain I am coming home early because I need to have therapy, but also to not fully explain I am coming home early because while I am facing my abuser, I don’t think I can handle doing it for long. I’m going through too much current trauma to face much past trauma now. This is the point where the strength and the amazement I allow the person who wrecked my life and gave me complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) and complicated every relationship for the rest of my existence to be in my life at all came out. This is also the point where I felt guilt for being told that was amazing, or I was strong. It isn’t strength. It is weakness. I don’t dare blow up my family any more than it is already blown. I don’t want to be the “bad guy” and the black sheep and the scapegoat any more than I already am. I don’t want to be blamed for keeping us apart and making things difficult and being “spoiled” and not being “forgiving.” I don’t have the strength to put up the most important boundary of my life. I am not brave enough to tell my abuser he cannot be in my life. Because he is related to me. Blood is thicker than water, some say. I don’t think that is true. I have received more and better love and support from people who aren’t related to me than I ever have from my family, in most cases. My father and my daughter and my niece, a couple of cousins, an aunt — they are good and gracious, generous, compassionate and loving. But most of my blood could care less if mine kept pumping or not. I’ve gone through various struggles with little to no support from those who are related to me, while relative strangers, friends, co-workers and neighbors offered all sorts of love, resources and care. But even though I know many of my family members are uncaring or abusive, it is difficult to sever ties. Why is it we are taught family is everything? Why do we have these sayings about blood being thicker? Is it ever true or trustworthy that family comes first? Is my situation simply the outlier and the “normative” structure is that families are healthy and good and supportive? Somehow, the thousands of personal stories I have heard over the years would not show I am the exception and great families are the rule. Sadly, families everywhere seem to lack compassion and grace. And many of us are hurting at the hands of one or more of the people in our relation. And it seems like the most difficult boundary to set for many of us — not just for me — is to say to a family member they do not get to wound you in that way. I was reading today in the book “Self-Compassion” by Kristin Neff about the importance of recognizing our inherent interconnectedness. Sometimes we don’t set these essential boundaries, because we want to feel connected. But according to Neff, we are connected simply because we are human. We are part of humanity and we are all connected simply by being. That’s a big concept to grasp and a hard one to hold onto, but I think it is a really important truth we need to learn to recognize every day. We are connected simply by being. So, we don’t need to hold onto the false notion blood is thicker than water, because humans are all blood and water. It is their actions toward us that help us decide whether we choose to have close relationships with them or set boundaries between them and ourselves, not their relatedness to us. We are connected by being. We are connected by our humanity. If someone is treating you as less than human, or less than them, they aren’t appropriately connected with you. It doesn’t matter if that person is your parent, your sibling, your child or a stranger on the street. A boundary is absolutely acceptable — even to the point where you never again see that person, depending on the circumstance. “Do you ever want to get it all out in the open?” My food psychologist was still probing this issue with my family and the abuses that keep us from having a chance at connection. Yes. All the time. But I’m the “wrong” one if I bring it up. Everyone else wants to keep it secret and not cope with it and not talk about it. And that hurts me. I don’t know how much longer I can let that keep hurting me, but I also know the alternative is to not have my family. One day they will force that choice. They will either accept the truth or I will put up the final boundary and not see them anymore. Because the mess they have made of our past is affecting my present, and possibly my future. “Your life is really a series of clearing up messes that others made for you,” was one of the last statements my doctor made the other day. He was correct. And as I made my way home from that appointment, armed with strategies for dealing with food while coping with acute trauma, I was also thinking about those messes and those others. How long was I going to let those be the things that affected me? How would I safeguard from the most recent threats? How long would I allow the stressors my family places upon me to be a trigger? Will I stop seeing them? When and how would I even do that? It isn’t a thing I want — to stop having contact with my family. But it is becoming closer and closer to a thing I need. In order to be the best and strongest version of myself, I may need to leave the need for their approval and affection behind, and be satisfied by the connections I have to the rest of humanity, and be supported by the people who are truly behind me and looking out for my best interests. My family is putting their own interests far above mine. Keeping secrets from the early ’80s is more important than my mental health today. And that isn’t OK. I’m starting to see how not OK that is. I’m starting to see how love for me means understanding how not OK that is and accepting my life is more important than their pride. And if it isn’t … If it isn’t, they don’t belong in my life. And I need to find the strength to say so. I am strong. And when it comes to it — if it comes to it — I will find the strength necessary to do what is best for my mental and physical health. I will set the boundaries needed to keep me safe and well. I will find the compassion toward myself equal to the compassion I offer my family, and start treating myself as their equal, regardless of how they treat me. If I need to, I will find the strength to stop seeing my abuser at the holidays. And I wish you all the strength to do the same this holiday season — to find your strength, know your worth, recognize your connectedness, be compassionate toward yourself and set good boundaries. You are strong. You can do it. Happy Holidays!!

Christy Bloemendaal

Seeing My Abuser During the Holidays Is Weakness, Not Strength

You’re so strong. That’s the response I often get when people realize I have been through years of childhood sexual abuse and somehow survived.  And in many ways, I am strong. I did survive. It is miraculous and a testament to my will to go on and to not be bested by the terrible acts of another. I’ve overcome a lot of terrible acts of another. The other day I was at my food psychologist’s office, and we usually talk about my mental health only in the context of my relationship to food, but since I was recently hospitalized for psychiatric care, he delved deeper into the psyche than the usual.  He kept saying I could talk with him about what happened and why I felt like I needed that extra care — because I see a psychologist every week, a psychiatrist every eight weeks and a food psychologist every month, so one would think my emotional and mental state would be pretty well-managed. I finally told him more, because he seemed to genuinely want to know. I told him how afraid I felt when I was being intimidated by some people, because I had always assumed that I had to choose abusive partners to feel intimidated in that way. I found out the night I went to the hospital that wasn’t true. People can hurt you no matter how you try to safeguard your life from abuses. And I have been trying to safeguard my life since childhood. There it was.  The inevitable “childhood” admission. The “shocker” that always hits people in the gut. And then I expressed my family history included chronic, years-long, severe sexual abuse that has been a black cloud hanging over us for decades. And that the upcoming holiday included me trying to explain I am coming home early because I need to have therapy, but also to not fully explain I am coming home early because while I am facing my abuser, I don’t think I can handle doing it for long. I’m going through too much current trauma to face much past trauma now. This is the point where the strength and the amazement I allow the person who wrecked my life and gave me complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) and complicated every relationship for the rest of my existence to be in my life at all came out. This is also the point where I felt guilt for being told that was amazing, or I was strong. It isn’t strength. It is weakness. I don’t dare blow up my family any more than it is already blown. I don’t want to be the “bad guy” and the black sheep and the scapegoat any more than I already am. I don’t want to be blamed for keeping us apart and making things difficult and being “spoiled” and not being “forgiving.” I don’t have the strength to put up the most important boundary of my life. I am not brave enough to tell my abuser he cannot be in my life. Because he is related to me. Blood is thicker than water, some say. I don’t think that is true. I have received more and better love and support from people who aren’t related to me than I ever have from my family, in most cases. My father and my daughter and my niece, a couple of cousins, an aunt — they are good and gracious, generous, compassionate and loving. But most of my blood could care less if mine kept pumping or not. I’ve gone through various struggles with little to no support from those who are related to me, while relative strangers, friends, co-workers and neighbors offered all sorts of love, resources and care. But even though I know many of my family members are uncaring or abusive, it is difficult to sever ties. Why is it we are taught family is everything? Why do we have these sayings about blood being thicker? Is it ever true or trustworthy that family comes first? Is my situation simply the outlier and the “normative” structure is that families are healthy and good and supportive? Somehow, the thousands of personal stories I have heard over the years would not show I am the exception and great families are the rule. Sadly, families everywhere seem to lack compassion and grace. And many of us are hurting at the hands of one or more of the people in our relation. And it seems like the most difficult boundary to set for many of us — not just for me — is to say to a family member they do not get to wound you in that way. I was reading today in the book “Self-Compassion” by Kristin Neff about the importance of recognizing our inherent interconnectedness. Sometimes we don’t set these essential boundaries, because we want to feel connected. But according to Neff, we are connected simply because we are human. We are part of humanity and we are all connected simply by being. That’s a big concept to grasp and a hard one to hold onto, but I think it is a really important truth we need to learn to recognize every day. We are connected simply by being. So, we don’t need to hold onto the false notion blood is thicker than water, because humans are all blood and water. It is their actions toward us that help us decide whether we choose to have close relationships with them or set boundaries between them and ourselves, not their relatedness to us. We are connected by being. We are connected by our humanity. If someone is treating you as less than human, or less than them, they aren’t appropriately connected with you. It doesn’t matter if that person is your parent, your sibling, your child or a stranger on the street. A boundary is absolutely acceptable — even to the point where you never again see that person, depending on the circumstance. “Do you ever want to get it all out in the open?” My food psychologist was still probing this issue with my family and the abuses that keep us from having a chance at connection. Yes. All the time. But I’m the “wrong” one if I bring it up. Everyone else wants to keep it secret and not cope with it and not talk about it. And that hurts me. I don’t know how much longer I can let that keep hurting me, but I also know the alternative is to not have my family. One day they will force that choice. They will either accept the truth or I will put up the final boundary and not see them anymore. Because the mess they have made of our past is affecting my present, and possibly my future. “Your life is really a series of clearing up messes that others made for you,” was one of the last statements my doctor made the other day. He was correct. And as I made my way home from that appointment, armed with strategies for dealing with food while coping with acute trauma, I was also thinking about those messes and those others. How long was I going to let those be the things that affected me? How would I safeguard from the most recent threats? How long would I allow the stressors my family places upon me to be a trigger? Will I stop seeing them? When and how would I even do that? It isn’t a thing I want — to stop having contact with my family. But it is becoming closer and closer to a thing I need. In order to be the best and strongest version of myself, I may need to leave the need for their approval and affection behind, and be satisfied by the connections I have to the rest of humanity, and be supported by the people who are truly behind me and looking out for my best interests. My family is putting their own interests far above mine. Keeping secrets from the early ’80s is more important than my mental health today. And that isn’t OK. I’m starting to see how not OK that is. I’m starting to see how love for me means understanding how not OK that is and accepting my life is more important than their pride. And if it isn’t … If it isn’t, they don’t belong in my life. And I need to find the strength to say so. I am strong. And when it comes to it — if it comes to it — I will find the strength necessary to do what is best for my mental and physical health. I will set the boundaries needed to keep me safe and well. I will find the compassion toward myself equal to the compassion I offer my family, and start treating myself as their equal, regardless of how they treat me. If I need to, I will find the strength to stop seeing my abuser at the holidays. And I wish you all the strength to do the same this holiday season — to find your strength, know your worth, recognize your connectedness, be compassionate toward yourself and set good boundaries. You are strong. You can do it. Happy Holidays!!

Community Voices

Captive

I couldn’t have imagined a week ago how I would be feeling right now.

The days of feeling this out of control were long behind me, right?  The history was just that: history—the past, behind me, and not currently in effect.

But I was wrong about that.

I was wrong for the most inconceivable reason.  COVID-19 and the order to “Shelter in Place”.

I’m in Chicago, and governor of Illinois has determined that, in order to limit the spread of the virus that is threatening our lives, the state is now to remain locked down.  We are not allowed out except for obtaining food, medicine, and essential services.  We must work from home or not work at all, unless we are the people providing the food and medicine.  We can take walks, but must maintain six feet of distance between ourselves and others.

This isn’t a lot different than what we were doing yesterday, really.  It isn’t a lot different than what we were doing yesterday if we were responsible citizens doing our best to limit the spread of pandemic, anyway.  I’ve already been locked in my apartment for days on end, seeing only my daughter and one other person.  I did sign for a package—which is the most social interaction I have had and I immediately sanitized my hands after touching that little screen with my finger.  (Why are we requiring signatures on that thing under these conditions??)

I understand that part of the problem is that there are a lot of not responsible citizens who are not doing their best to limit the spread of pandemic.  That is the reason that orders like sheltering in place are becoming necessary.  But orders like this, for some of us … for me … are incredibly triggering.

I was doing relatively well being home with mild symptoms and trying not to be around anyone.  But I was bingeing on NCIS and The Outsider, and napping a ton, and trying to read for class a little when I felt well enough.  That was when it was mostly a choice.

Now…

Now I am being told that I am not allowed to leave.  I am being told that I am captive in my home.

And the word captive sounds extreme and not exactly true in this case, but it is true to my psyche.  It is true inside my spirit, even if it isn’t logically true.

Having experienced both long-term sexual abuse as a child and domestic violence as a young woman, I have been in situations where I could not leave a situation that I wanted to leave.  I have felt trapped.  I have been stuck, held, isolated, locked in, and captive for most of my life.  There were even a couple of instances in my history where I was literally held captive.  I was locked in a home, without my consent and with no escape.  I had to fight my way out by threatening the life of my captor.  That is a thing that I never like to remember that I am capable of—choosing to save my life by potentially ending that of another—but one that is true for all of us, if we are completely honest.  It brings up the worst feelings for me, however.

Earlier today I described in a text to a friend the rising nausea and rush of blood to my face as I read that Governor Pritzker would be issuing the shelter in place order to begin tomorrow.  That fear and desperation and loss of control and sickness that comes with being forced to do what you would not do if you had the options that people with freedom have rose up in me once more.

I don’t fully understand what it is to have choices.  I’ve never made a decision that lived outside of this duress that started with the captive state of an abused child.  I’ve never had the complete freedom that so many of my friends and neighbors and colleagues over the years have enjoyed.  I’ve always lived under the weight of captivity.

In recent years, I’ve tried to understand what it means to live under the cloud of having your consent and your ability to choose freely taken from you.  I’ve tried to understand it so that I could find some way through it.  I don’t say that I lost my freedom of choice to bemoan my sad situation and seek pity, but to express that I needed to find a different path. That meant seeking freedom by finding a way to transform what others chose for me into something that I can accept and utilize to create what is beautiful and good.  I’ve worked in therapy and yoga and psychiatry and physical therapy and food psychology and most recently I am embarking on a journey with a sexuality therapist in order to create something beautiful and good from the captivity and nonconsensual life that came at me from my childhood.  And I have felt like progress was being made, and that I was coming into myself and finding my footing and becoming in new and wonderful ways the person I desire to be.

And then the order to shelter in place made me feel like I was locked away with no power or control over my situation.

A man spoke and I was controlled.

I don’t know if others are feeling this way.  I suspect that some of you are.

It isn’t easy to avoid this trigger—feeling isolated, controlled, without power, unable to consent.  I think that even those who haven’t had a history filled with terrible consequences of captivity are likely feeling these things.  But for those of us who have this history, it is really challenging to be okay right now.

It is really challenging to not run screaming from my apartment even though there is nobody keeping me locked inside.  It is really challenging not to play over the events of my life that felt like this feels and to dwell on the moments of powerlessness.  It is really challenging to focus and function in any significant way, because the threat of thinking and feeling is too real—it might cause me to spiral out of control—so deadening and distracting my mind is a better option.  And it is really challenging to feel as though I will have the freedom and choice and power and autonomy back at the end of this like everyone else will.

For lots of people, once the restrictions lift, they go back to life as usual.  I don’t know if that is true for me.

Once this is triggered, can it be untriggered?  Do I go back to life and school and family and fun without falling back into depression and anxiety and feeling out of control?  Do I give in to the current desire to smoke or participate in risky behavior because I am feeling out of control, and if I do, can I rein that in again once the threat of the virus is over?  Does all the work I have done over the past six years become undone because of this stressor and these triggers and this struggle right now?  And what compensation can the GOP possibly offer me for that loss?

There is so much … too much … for some of us to cope with in the midst of this crisis.

Things that others cannot even imagine are becoming real issues for those of us who have been through challenging histories, and who have deep wounds.

But I do believe that we can keep on working toward making what we did not choose into something that is beautiful and good.  Even this crisis and this pandemic and this global economy and this current triggering situation has some silver lining.  I may not see it now, but it can be found.

Maybe it is something that we need to find collectively, by encouraging one another and expressing the light that we see and the beauty that we see around us.  Maybe it is something that we need to find personally by making that one choice that we feel we can—doing that one thing we have some agency in or over—today to make the world better.  Maybe it is both of those things and more.

I know that writing this has helped me to find some peace and feel some agency.  To be able to describe what I am feeling, and to let you all know that it is okay if you are feeling it too, because it is real and valid and reasonable and acceptable to have this moment and your past collide in complicated ways.  Solving these problems won’t likely happen with immediacy, but we can work together to create change, to support one another, and to listen with grace and understanding to the ways that people are affected right now.

There is so much going on.  So much.

And it is so chaotic and so complex.

But we have survived some really terrible and traumatic times, my loves, and we are going to survive once more.  We are going to find the light and the love and the good and make something beautiful from this chaos.  I’m sure that we can.  We have power and choices and agency to do it.  We will make it through this.

Christy Bloemendaal

My Sleepwalking Is a Result of Childhood Sexual Trauma

Editor’s Note: If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 . I once, according to my dad’s telling of the tale, came downstairs from my room, obtained a jar of jam from the refrigerator, took a spoon from the silverware drawer and started to eat jam directly from the jar. When he questioned me and asked what I was doing, I became defensive. Whatever was happening in my head, I had determined jam-eating in the wee hours of morning was normal and not an offense of any kind. And that is a fun little anecdote regarding the sleepwalking of my childhood. There are many. My dad also tells tales of other sorts of sleep disorders—sleep terrors and nightmares. Sleepwalking is rare. Estimates place the percentage of the population that completes complex action while asleep around one to 15. This phenomenon is a sleep disorder and it is usually associated with either sleep deprivation, stress or both. The combination of this disorder with those of nightmares and terrors is even more rare. It is hard to say how many people might have all three, because the one experiencing the events often has no recall of the events. In the past few years, I started to sleepwalk again. While I have no recall of the events, I have evidences of the events. One morning, bread was laid out on the kitchen island, as though I were preparing to make a sandwich. Another morning, I woke to toasted bread, still sitting in the toaster but stale and cold. On yet another occasion, I woke to near freezing temperatures and realized I had turned the thermostat all the way down as I slept. It wasn’t until I mentioned these events to my sleep specialist that I started to understand the presence of sleep disorders is directly related to stress. And in my case, that stress is related to a loss of bodily autonomy through chronic sexual abuse and medical testing and treatment for bladder and kidney issues. Usually adult sleepwalking is tied to and triggered by childhood stressors. My sleepwalking (along with incontinence and suicidal thoughts) returned shortly after a visit from a family member and the repeated arguments that took place during that time. The insistence that I do as he believed I should and the lack of respect for me and my autonomy threw me right back into my childhood self with symptoms of extreme stress. Getting along with this family member is an impossible task for me. He wounded me in ways that can possibly (I hope) be forgiven, but can never be forgotten. He created a vacuum in my life that sucked in all sorts of damage, abuse and pain. And while some would argue I shouldn’t “play the victim card,” the fact is I am a victim of horrible abuse that does not stop affecting me. And having the perpetrator of my abuses in my physical space, telling me what to do, is an affront impossible to ignore. People talk about “finding their inner child,” like it is a fun and freeing thing. But my inner child is terrified, wounded, confused and under mind-altering levels of stress. I don’t want to find my inner child—ever. But I don’t get a choice, because that child finds me on a regular basis. She returned in a blink of an eye after that visit with my family member. And she didn’t leave. I began sleepwalking again because that child started running the show while I slept—the early expression of my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) coming back into my experience. This is often the case with sleepwalkers. If we do it as adults, we likely also did it as children. I don’t know if I eat jam from the jar in my sleep anymore. But I am definitely exhibiting the stress I did in childhood within the circadian patterns I currently experience. Now I can make the nightmares go away. I didn’t know it was possible until a few years ago, when the nightmares were increasing and the trauma of the past was leaving a trail of symptoms across my life. It was at that point I was finally properly diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD). And this diagnosis brought with it the beloved use of blood pressure medication that stops the nightmares. Or to be more succinct, it stops me fromengaging with the nightmares or remembering the nightmares. Blood pressure medication as a treatment for PTSD, was discovered incidentally by a Dr. Simon Kung at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.  The medication had been around for decades, but it wasn’t noted as an effective treatment for nightmares due to PTSD until 2012. Thankfully, I receive medical care at a teaching hospital that uses cutting-edge treatments and I started on a blood pressure medication mere weeks after my diagnosis. My brain can still engage with flashbacks and nightmares, but my body is prevented from interacting with that engagement and I remain asleep and unaffected by the subconscious terror. It still amazes me this is possible, after having interacted with this terror for over 30 years. I am in awe that we can simply shut off that terror during the night. And I am extremely grateful for Dr. Simon Kung’s work to find, study and disseminate the knowledge that I and many others who struggle with PTSD symptoms, can experience peaceful sleep. While the medication doesn’t prevent me from sleepwalking, it makes my sleep much more consistent and much less traumatizing. When sleep, the restorative and balancing action your body requires, become a source of fear, it is a terrible thing. And being able to participate in and enjoy sleep is nothing short of miraculous for my beleaguered and exhausted self. I feel like this turned into a term paper, not a blog post. But it is important, apparently, for me to recognize and report about the challenge of experiencing symptoms of stress and trauma during the night and to present alternatives. Because, as someone recently told me, people need to hear my stories. And I am committed to the telling not just because I think it might assist others, but because speaking truth is freeing. Expressing the challenge and the need and the struggle and the fight and the overcoming of obstacles and the strength and joy and relief of that overcoming is important. It is such because my voice is my only chance at regaining the autonomy lost as a child. My voice is the only thing that can offer that child some peace and restoration.  That young self and my triggered adult self, both need to know and feel and trust there is a path to good and that we can walk the path and find the end. I might make sandwiches or eat jam from the jar in the night for the rest of my life. I might, just as easily, find the release of stress I need to stop sleepwalking from happening any longer. And it is necessary for others to see this hidden experience and to validate that experience. I don’t fault those in my life for not knowing I was expressing the grave burdens of an abused child in my quirky sleepwalking moments. The science wasn’t there. The advocacy wasn’t there. The skilled psychiatric specialists were not there. The only thing my dad could see was a girl doing weird things—expressing the inexpressible in the ways only my subconscious self could. And it couldn’t express it well enough or loudly enough or clearly enough to spare me the trauma, but at least I tried to express it in some way. I can express it now. I’m determined to express it now. I’m determined to give that child a voice that can be heard, understood and validated. I’m determined to let her speak, cry and scream out the things that her jam-eating, sleepwalking and nightmare-having self couldn’t quite manage to express. That little girl experienced chronic and escalating sexual abuse. That little girl also had doctors and nurses poking around in her most sensitive and sacred parts without any sort of trauma-informed care. That little girl was lost in a sea of pain and she nearly drowned in those deep and dark waters, as the waves beat her and threw her against the rocks. That little girl needed to say she felt like she was dying from the weight of trauma and shame and conflict and fear and confusion laid upon her tiny chest — crushing her ribs, puncturing her lungs and making it impossible to breathe. That little girl also needed others to hear her and to offer validation and to acknowledge the injustice and offer hope and comfort and help. She still needs that. I try to offer it to her. But it is hard to trust just one voice (especially when so many deceptions have been spoken in her experience). It is hard to assure her she deserved safety and autonomy and privacy and justice and good. It is hard to assure my adult self that she too, deserves safety and autonomy and privacy and justice and good. It is hard to believe my voice can make a difference. It is hard to believe I am heard. It is hard to find validation. It is hard to find hope and peace. But that little girl fought hard to survive. And I am going to keep fighting her fight. This post originally appeared on Learning to Be Whole. If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock photo via Archv.

Christy Bloemendaal

Seeing My Abuser During the Holidays Is Weakness, Not Strength

You’re so strong. That’s the response I often get when people realize I have been through years of childhood sexual abuse and somehow survived.  And in many ways, I am strong. I did survive. It is miraculous and a testament to my will to go on and to not be bested by the terrible acts of another. I’ve overcome a lot of terrible acts of another. The other day I was at my food psychologist’s office, and we usually talk about my mental health only in the context of my relationship to food, but since I was recently hospitalized for psychiatric care, he delved deeper into the psyche than the usual.  He kept saying I could talk with him about what happened and why I felt like I needed that extra care — because I see a psychologist every week, a psychiatrist every eight weeks and a food psychologist every month, so one would think my emotional and mental state would be pretty well-managed. I finally told him more, because he seemed to genuinely want to know. I told him how afraid I felt when I was being intimidated by some people, because I had always assumed that I had to choose abusive partners to feel intimidated in that way. I found out the night I went to the hospital that wasn’t true. People can hurt you no matter how you try to safeguard your life from abuses. And I have been trying to safeguard my life since childhood. There it was.  The inevitable “childhood” admission. The “shocker” that always hits people in the gut. And then I expressed my family history included chronic, years-long, severe sexual abuse that has been a black cloud hanging over us for decades. And that the upcoming holiday included me trying to explain I am coming home early because I need to have therapy, but also to not fully explain I am coming home early because while I am facing my abuser, I don’t think I can handle doing it for long. I’m going through too much current trauma to face much past trauma now. This is the point where the strength and the amazement I allow the person who wrecked my life and gave me complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) and complicated every relationship for the rest of my existence to be in my life at all came out. This is also the point where I felt guilt for being told that was amazing, or I was strong. It isn’t strength. It is weakness. I don’t dare blow up my family any more than it is already blown. I don’t want to be the “bad guy” and the black sheep and the scapegoat any more than I already am. I don’t want to be blamed for keeping us apart and making things difficult and being “spoiled” and not being “forgiving.” I don’t have the strength to put up the most important boundary of my life. I am not brave enough to tell my abuser he cannot be in my life. Because he is related to me. Blood is thicker than water, some say. I don’t think that is true. I have received more and better love and support from people who aren’t related to me than I ever have from my family, in most cases. My father and my daughter and my niece, a couple of cousins, an aunt — they are good and gracious, generous, compassionate and loving. But most of my blood could care less if mine kept pumping or not. I’ve gone through various struggles with little to no support from those who are related to me, while relative strangers, friends, co-workers and neighbors offered all sorts of love, resources and care. But even though I know many of my family members are uncaring or abusive, it is difficult to sever ties. Why is it we are taught family is everything? Why do we have these sayings about blood being thicker? Is it ever true or trustworthy that family comes first? Is my situation simply the outlier and the “normative” structure is that families are healthy and good and supportive? Somehow, the thousands of personal stories I have heard over the years would not show I am the exception and great families are the rule. Sadly, families everywhere seem to lack compassion and grace. And many of us are hurting at the hands of one or more of the people in our relation. And it seems like the most difficult boundary to set for many of us — not just for me — is to say to a family member they do not get to wound you in that way. I was reading today in the book “Self-Compassion” by Kristin Neff about the importance of recognizing our inherent interconnectedness. Sometimes we don’t set these essential boundaries, because we want to feel connected. But according to Neff, we are connected simply because we are human. We are part of humanity and we are all connected simply by being. That’s a big concept to grasp and a hard one to hold onto, but I think it is a really important truth we need to learn to recognize every day. We are connected simply by being. So, we don’t need to hold onto the false notion blood is thicker than water, because humans are all blood and water. It is their actions toward us that help us decide whether we choose to have close relationships with them or set boundaries between them and ourselves, not their relatedness to us. We are connected by being. We are connected by our humanity. If someone is treating you as less than human, or less than them, they aren’t appropriately connected with you. It doesn’t matter if that person is your parent, your sibling, your child or a stranger on the street. A boundary is absolutely acceptable — even to the point where you never again see that person, depending on the circumstance. “Do you ever want to get it all out in the open?” My food psychologist was still probing this issue with my family and the abuses that keep us from having a chance at connection. Yes. All the time. But I’m the “wrong” one if I bring it up. Everyone else wants to keep it secret and not cope with it and not talk about it. And that hurts me. I don’t know how much longer I can let that keep hurting me, but I also know the alternative is to not have my family. One day they will force that choice. They will either accept the truth or I will put up the final boundary and not see them anymore. Because the mess they have made of our past is affecting my present, and possibly my future. “Your life is really a series of clearing up messes that others made for you,” was one of the last statements my doctor made the other day. He was correct. And as I made my way home from that appointment, armed with strategies for dealing with food while coping with acute trauma, I was also thinking about those messes and those others. How long was I going to let those be the things that affected me? How would I safeguard from the most recent threats? How long would I allow the stressors my family places upon me to be a trigger? Will I stop seeing them? When and how would I even do that? It isn’t a thing I want — to stop having contact with my family. But it is becoming closer and closer to a thing I need. In order to be the best and strongest version of myself, I may need to leave the need for their approval and affection behind, and be satisfied by the connections I have to the rest of humanity, and be supported by the people who are truly behind me and looking out for my best interests. My family is putting their own interests far above mine. Keeping secrets from the early ’80s is more important than my mental health today. And that isn’t OK. I’m starting to see how not OK that is. I’m starting to see how love for me means understanding how not OK that is and accepting my life is more important than their pride. And if it isn’t … If it isn’t, they don’t belong in my life. And I need to find the strength to say so. I am strong. And when it comes to it — if it comes to it — I will find the strength necessary to do what is best for my mental and physical health. I will set the boundaries needed to keep me safe and well. I will find the compassion toward myself equal to the compassion I offer my family, and start treating myself as their equal, regardless of how they treat me. If I need to, I will find the strength to stop seeing my abuser at the holidays. And I wish you all the strength to do the same this holiday season — to find your strength, know your worth, recognize your connectedness, be compassionate toward yourself and set good boundaries. You are strong. You can do it. Happy Holidays!!

Christy Bloemendaal

Complex PTSD, Shame and Making Bad Relationship Choices

There’s this thing that happens when you live with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) for many years, especially undiagnosed C-PTSD. You tend to repeat unhealthy relational patterns ad nauseam. I don’t know how many times I have chosen the wrong partner, but it was a lot of times. Sometimes, I deliberately choose partners who are wrong for me. If I don’t have a chance of lasting love with them, I don’t need to worry about being hurt by them in a deep and cutting way. Or, at least, that is what I tell myself when I am starting to engage with these less-than-suitable partners. I still end up being hurt, and usually because these people are emotionally unavailable or don’t meet my needs, and I eventually want them to because, while I pretended to want something casual, I really wanted a long-term relationship with a great partner. Sometimes I use men to soothe what hurts. No — often, I use men to soothe what hurts. They don’t generally mind being used in this manner, and usually, they are also using me in some form and for some similar reason, but it isn’t the healthiest of connections. And, as I wisely stated the other day, “No penis is going to fill the space in my heart… just the space in my vagina.” Sometimes, I fall for narcissistic men. No — usually, I fall for narcissistic men. I know why I do this, I think. It has definitely taken a really long time to figure this one out. It is the most complicated of the connections. I genuinely want a good partner in these instances, but I somehow end up with terrible partners who sucked me in with some ruse. I thought they were good people, but they were not good people. They were selfish and they abused and humiliated and harmed me. They didn’t care about me, but I kept trying to convince them to, and I kept trying to convince myself that they did — and convince everyone around me as well. Eventually, things got so terrible that there was no denying I was being treated like trash, and then I had to recover, mourn and start the process of building up the esteem that had been broken down by these men. It’s a horrible process and I hate it, but I would go through it time and again. Here’s what really gets me about this repeating of bad relationships: I’m a brilliant, strong, capable, educated, beautiful woman! I could have and should have my pick of great partners who are secure, stable and not looking to stab a woman in the heart, proverbially or literally, at any point. And yet I ended up with these tragedies of relationships repeating over and over like the weekly Shakespearean outlet stage or something. There was no logic to me being paired with a man who treated me terribly. I had everything going for me. I “deserved” better, and yet I kept choosing worse. C-PTSD is characterized by relational challenges. There is often a lack of maturity in the interactions and impulse control of the person with this disorder, but I don’t think those were the central issues for me. I think the central issue was shame. Shame does much to the human brain that one wouldn’t immediately consider. And the pathways affected can bring about all sorts of behaviors that are not good. The violence of abusive partners like those I had in my history has been shown to be a result of childhood shame. Shame often comes out as anger and, for many, experiencing shame makes them timid or fearful, and therefore overly dependent or unable to differentiate. I’m not entirely certain how to describe what shame did to me, other than to say it combined with a rigid, moral code in such a way it made me convinced of my own unworthiness. I didn’t need to sew a scarlet letter upon my clothing because since I was a very small child, it had been tattooed upon my heart. Not everyone can see that tattoo. Narcissists can somehow spot it, and they capitalize upon it because women with my particular tattoo are the only ones who hate themselves more than the men who wear the shame of their history so close to their heart. It sounds ridiculous but it is true. I know it is true because I lived it over and over. But I also know something else is true. Letting go of that shame, and finding my value and basking in the glow of my freedom and my beauty and my strength removes that tattoo. Letting go of shame stops the cycle. When you stop feeling like you don’t deserve love, you start to find it. Over the last year, several of my friends had changes in their situations, and they left the area or our relationships changed in ways that meant I didn’t see or hear from them as often. So, I needed to develop new relationships. I didn’t do that very well, because I was still struggling with the shame tattoo. I chose to connect with a convenient non-long-term person. I started finding connections at local dive bars, instead of institutes of higher learning. There is nothing inherently wrong with the places or the people within, but there was something wrong with the way I was relating to myself, which meant I wasn’t relating to the right people in the right ways in those places. And as I realized my mistake and found my strength and let go of my shame, people didn’t like that change. They liked the old way of relating. They liked shame-based Christy. They didn’t like empowered, love-filled, joy-seeking Christy. And in the past few months, all hell broke loose. I’ve fallen to pieces, been triggered by things that haven’t bothered me since childhood, and been ejected from more places than I generally care to be. Others have triggered those things, been upset by what I’ve done, enjoyed what I’ve done, denied what I’ve done, denied what they’ve done with me, lied to their “friends” and “family” about me and about their connections to me, and made certain I was ejected from more places than I generally care to be. And the only thing that has changed, as far as I can tell, is that I am embracing me without shame. Lots of people don’t like me without shame.  But, remember, those people are the narcissists. Those people are the people swimming in their own shame. Me losing mine means they might need to honestly face their own. There is another connection I want to share — one that isn’t with a narcissist. One I am still somewhat afraid of and trying to wrap my brain around because there is so much of me that tries to say, “you don’t deserve this amazing man!” But I do. That screaming part is the shame trying to get a foothold again. And if I let it get a foothold, I might lose that amazing man. He doesn’t belong with a tattooed heart. He belongs with the free and loving and bold and joyful me who floats and sings and dives into life. That is the woman he met, and that is the woman I am seeking to remain. He has forgiven me twice for sinking into the pit of shame and getting paranoid and thinking he will leave or thinking he is cheating. Twice. And we have still not met in person. Can you believe I am so connected to my shame that I have almost scared off the perfect partner twice before we have moved our relationship offline? I am — or at least, I was. But he is reason enough to let go of that shame permanently, if possible. And he helps me let it go! He reminds me every day of my talents and my beauty and my value. He writes me poetry. He sends me love songs. He tells me about his day. We talk about the future and what we want that to look like. We question one another about all sorts of things so that our online time isn’t wasted time, and every answer leads me away from shame and closer to the best version of myself. I’m absolutely not saying you need to find a man to help you rid yourself of shame. Please don’t misunderstand. I’m saying: once I found I didn’t need that shame and stepped out of it and into the light, I stopped repeating the crap relationship I have been repeating for the past 30 years. He helps remind me how much better it is in the light, so I don’t accidentally slip back into the shame. It is a lesson I wish I could have learned a long time ago. But, I am also glad I am learning it today, because otherwise, I might not be learning it alongside him. And I love learning it alongside him. So, people who hold shame — which is probably most of you, whether you have PTSD or not — I am here to tell you to begin the very difficult process of giving it up. It won’t happen overnight. You might need the help of a wise therapist (like I do). It might feel like you are moving one step forward and two steps back. You might find some people liked you better filled with shame than strong and empowered, and that will suck. But you deserve so much more than repeating the same shame over and over and over again. Rinse off. Do not repeat. Keep going without that shame. You’ve got this.

Community Voices

Sometimes My C-PTSD Makes Me Feel Incredibly Stupid & Alone

I’ve done the same thing over again.  I’ve started a relationship with a person who

had some red flags waving rather obviously.

I saw them … flapping in the wind.

I don’t know if I chose to ignore them, or if I thought that

I had the power to change them, and to heal the broken parts in that other

person.  Either way, I am left today

feeling incredibly stupid.  And I am left

alone.

I tell people all the time that you don’t date

potential.  You date realized, actual

partners who already display the traits that you desire in one whom you would

give your heart to and share your life with.

But then I date the people who have all the challenges hanging out there

in front of them, and the good advice that I give to others I ignore.

Sometimes I think that I don’t believe that I deserve a partner

who treats me well.  Sometimes I think I

am just too messed up from a history colored by trauma after trauma to know how

to choose a decent partner.  And then

there are times that I think I deliberately choose people who will harm me,

because I am so familiar with pain and abuse and anger and frustration and

violence and cyclical ups and downs full of emotional #Whiplash that I would

rather have that familiar thing than a healthy thing.

Because what is healthy feels so foreign to me that I don’t know

how to be in it, and the unknown scares me more than the damaging familiar.

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is distinct from the “regular”

version that most are familiar with because of the addition of the complex

symptoms that I and others like me suffer: difficulty regulating emotions and

behavior, dissociation or amnesia around traumatic events, disturbance in

self-perception, fluctuating perception of the perpetrator of the abuse,

impaired ability to form relationships with others, loss of meaning, and experiencing

physical symptoms of traumatic stress.

Bouts of crying or rage, broken relationships, the loss of

years of memories, hatred of self, a disturbingly complicated love/hate

relationship with my first abuser, not understanding why I am on the Earth to

begin with and developing debilitating stress-related illness are all added to

the already challenging symptoms that come with having post-traumatic stress.  And the original symptoms are enough.  Trust me.

These extra bits are attributed to prolonged, repeated

trauma.  And my life is overflowing with

prolonged, repeated traumas to choose from.

Some researchers even posit that people like me, who have lived through

one long trauma like this choose to relive it in our relationships for the rest

of our lives.

I’m not particularly fond of those researchers.  I’d like to believe that I would not choose

trauma over love and care and kindness and grace and intimacy and trust and all

those good things that I should want instead of trauma.  And I imagine that is what other people

experience.

I don’t really know, fully, what other people

experience.

I don’t know what a “healthy” relationship is.  I’ve never had one.  (And if the aforementioned researchers get their

way, I never will.)

How do you function in relationship with others when you

literally have a symptom of “impaired ability to form relationships with others”?

How do you not always toss your own advice out the window

and simply be in a relationship with someone whom you know will likely hurt you

in some way?  And I don’t mean that they

will beat you violently or something that horrific—though that is a possibility

at times.  But I’ve been in relationships

with the most emotionally unavailable people over the past 10 years that it is

bordering on an offense I should be committed to an institution for … it is

basically participating in some terrible form of #Selfharm.  I’ve been with alcoholics, and men who are cheating

on me.  One gave me herpes.  One would have me over for sex and then give

me cab fare home.  He basically treated

me like a really inexpensive prostitute.

And I just kept letting him do that for a year.  When I finally slept with someone else, and

then asked him to forgive the offense, he broke up with me and never spoke to

me again.  Not one word.

But he did give me cab fare.

It didn’t matter because I was basically in a state of shock

mixed with self-flagellation and wandered the streets weeping for about 40

minutes before I stumbled across the train and took that instead.

I actually felt like I was to blame for all of this.  Like I was the worst person.  Even though he had treated me like crap for a

year.  He never loved me.  He used me like a conveniently placed napkin

when there was mustard upon his chin.

Oh, lovely—something I can use and toss aside!

I’ve been punishing myself for broken endings to crap

relationships for years now.  But they

were never going to work because these are insecure men who need to gain

insight, get their lives together, learn to respect women—and themselves, for

that matter–and be partners worthy of relationship.  None of them have been.

I’ve not been with someone worthy of partnership for many,

many years.  Before my husband, for

certain.  And I was married … 22 years

ago?  It has been long enough that the

math seems challenging and I am estimating based on the age of my

daughter.

The thing is, I am an extremely intelligent, self-aware,

intuitive woman.  I have two master’s

degrees.  People frequently seek out my

advice on matters of the heart and relationships, because I give great advice

about these things.  And I am an amazing

friend, who has great connections with many people—lasting bonds that are

transforming and beautiful.  So, I

shouldn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, be incapable of choosing a

suitable, mature, secure, caring partner!

It is infuriating to know that time after time I choose

partners who are not suitable, mature, secure, and caring.  And it isn’t that they are just a little off

of center from my desired destination.

They aren’t even on the map!

A couple weeks ago, I went out with my brother for drinks

and we ran into the man I was dating up until last night.  When that man went to the restroom, my

brother said, “We both know that guy there isn’t your soulmate.”

At the time I found it a bit offensive, though I didn’t let

on that I was offended.  Now I know that

he was just trying to show me love and tell me the truth.  That man was not the partner I need.  He isn’t even close!  And while I so wish that I could say that I

saw the light and ended it, I didn’t.

That man stormed out last night, and then blocked my calls this

morning.  That’s right.  I know he is all wrong for me and I am still

trying to get him back.  Or I was until I

started writing this piece and listening to my playlist that includes Kesha and

Krewella and is firing up all the feminist ideals that I hold and reminding me

that I deserve love and respect and kindness and to feel alive on the

inside!

But I shouldn’t need to be dumped by a less than ideal

partner and then let my Spotify account somehow help me find the value I need

to stop chasing after that partner.  I

should know my value at the start.

So, I feel stupid and alone.

And it is because of my disease—my mental illness—that makes things seem

right when they are wrong and wrong when they are right.

It is torture, really.

And I’m not entirely sure how to change it.

I suppose talking to my psychotherapist about it tomorrow is

a great start.  Being honest about how

lonely I am feeling and telling my friends I need more care and contact is also

a good step, I’m sure.  And keeping Kesha

and Krewella on repeat while I go about my business the next few days, or

weeks, might be a help as well.  But I

still don’t know how to fix that long-term damage done to my psyche.  It takes such work to heal from what was done

to me so very many years ago.

It is frustrating.

And all I can do—all each one of us who suffers C-Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can do—is to keep

on working toward what we hope will someday be a “normal” and “healthy”

situation that helps us more than it harms us.

I feel stupid and alone.

But I am not.

I know there are millions more of you out there, fighting

this same fight.

And we fight so hard.

We are warriors.  It takes

unbelievable, inconceivable, strength to fight this fight.

And we are warriors.

So, next time something happens in your own life, and you

feel like you’ve effed up and made the dumbest mistakes … again, remember this

article.

Remember me and my stupid moment.  And how it moved me toward finding you and

reminded me that we are warriors together.

And pick up the pieces, beautiful warrior.

Fight.

 

Community Voices

The Breaks That Bond Us

Recently, I’ve been on a quest to find my tribe.

For a while, I thought I knew who I belonged with–like there was a type or a mold that made sense for me to fit within, and I could encounter those people and insert myself into their circle and be comfortable there.

For a while, that actually worked.  But it only worked as long as I feigned fitting into the mold and being that particular type.  Every moment I stepped outside their expectations of who or what I “should” be, I was chastised or ostracized in some way, and I had to fall back into line to regain their approval.

It didn’t last long–this molding myself to fit the expectations of others.  That was a thing that I had tried and failed to do for a lifetime, and which caused me great pain, shame, and frustration.  Not long into thinking I could behave as one of this tribe, the pain and shame and frustration came rushing back. It was horrible.  I hadn’t felt that out of control and angry and unhinged since I was a sophomore in college–the first time I was in college, before those feelings made me drop out and put my education on a proverbial shelf for years.

Those feelings of pain and shame and frustration brought me far beyond dropping out of college.  They brought me #Addiction, abusive relationships, assaults on my person and the people around me, arraignments before judges, and all sorts of other things that kept drawing me deeper down a rabbit hole that wasn’t nearly as fun as the one Alice fell into.  I’d love to fall down that hole. But no acid trip ever brought me such bright hallucinations of the illogical. I just got a whole lot more pain, shame, and frustration.

So, when I felt that hole opening up in my life, I went straight to my therapist and far from that group of people who made me feel so “not good” and “not right” that I would get trapped in the feelings that had harmed me for most of my life.  For a couple of weeks, I isolated myself. I curled up in my little Sanctuary, which is my apartment, and I nursed my wounds and ordered a bunch of books about identity and how to find it. That only took me a short way from the feelings though.  I knew that I needed to go farther. I needed to leave the inner sanctum and go out.

When you suffer from #Anxiety, #Depression, post-traumatic stress, and stress related disease like #Fibromyalgia, it is extremely challenging to leave Sanctuary and go out.  Especially after being in a situation where you felt betrayed and harmed by others quite recently.  It is doubly difficult when you are also fearful that the pain and shame and frustration could jump out again at any moment.  Once you lose control, it isn’t so easy to box things up and keep a lid on them immediately after. You often feel on edge, ready to jump up and go, and like you are using all of your energy to keep yourself held together in a way that will keep you from being arrested or thrown into an asylum.  Any wrong word or deed or look or feeling might set you off and you would explode like an atom bomb. And having just lost a community, you cannot do that again!

Walking away from one group of people meant walking toward another, so I literally went in the opposite direction–like north instead of south–and went to visit a bar where I would occasionally sing on karaoke night.  But I intentionally visited more often, and on other nights and times, so that I met new people. It was a space that already felt a bit familiar, but it still expanded my horizons.

The first person I met there said to me, “I know you.”  But I didn’t recognize her at all. Then she told me where she knew me from, in a hushed voice so that no one else would hear.  She knew me from a moment where I exploded. Rage was coming out all over and I didn’t know where to put it, so I had gone out to the dumpster behind my building and found an old piece of furniture that was thrown out.  I broke it and smashed it and bashed the pieces to splinters against the concrete of the alley. During this episode, the guy who rents the back garage and two other people came out to see what the heck was happening out there.  She was one of those two other people. She saw me apologizing to him and saying that I hadn’t damaged anything or anyone’s property, but some trash, but that I couldn’t hold it in any longer and I didn’t know what to do with my anger and my terror and I just had to do something.  He said something about his mother always saying it was better to hit something than someone and it was fine. I started to cry and apologized again and walked away. She saw me during all of that.

And she wasn’t afraid of me.

We talked for about two hours that night she introduced herself in the bar, and a week later when I suddenly needed to go out of town, I somehow trusted her to care for my house and my dog while I was away.  We talk nearly every day and spend time together two or three times a week. I have never doubted that she can love me at my worst, because she saw me at my worst the very first time she saw me, and she understood fully what I was feeling and dealing with.  She has felt the exact same thing.

Another person I met at that bar I met on one of those days that I don’t usually go out, but I was pushing myself to find that tribe–those friends who can understand and love me despite the brokenness of my history and the challenges of my current mental and physical illnesses.  The first night we met was just civil discourse, and a few drinks bought for me, and a few shy but adorable smiles from each of us to the other. The next time we saw one another, he nearly fought another person for being rude to me. The frustration exploded out of him suddenly–his body tensing and his pool cue hitting the ground with an echo that was deafening.  It was chivalrous and an instinct that I admired. To most everyone else it might have been scary. But I understood it. It wasn’t that moment that made the rage come out, but a long history of things came flooding out in that moment. I felt them. I knew them. I connected with them.

I went to stand near him, keeping him apart from the object of his anger in the moment, while others ushered the offending drunk asshole from the bar.  And then, when the moment was over, he walked away from me and went to the little alcove area near the bathrooms at the rear of the building. I could see him pacing there for a bit.  A few minutes later I went that direction, and he said he was okay but to give him a moment, so I went back to my seat at the bar. He returned a few minutes later. I thanked him for standing up for me.  He first argued that he didn’t do it for me, but then backpedaled and said that he did it for me in part. So I thanked him again and he politely and with kindness said, “You’re welcome, Christy.”

The next time I saw him he mentioned anxiety and PTSD.  I said I have the same. We spent time together that night just talking and agreeing that we need to be friends.  We had some beautiful moments, which I won’t recount here, because they were intense and private moments, but I will say that they could not have happened had we not met under the circumstances we did.  We could not have bonded in these ways if we had not recognized one another’s broken spaces, and chosen to not run from that brokenness, but hold it tight and care for one another in the midst of it all.

It can often feel, when you have a history full of pain and shame and frustration and rage and depression and anxiety and abuse and whatever else, like you can’t connect with others–like they won’t understand you.  But I am here to tell you that sometimes what breaks us is exactly what bonds us. Sometimes, when you put yourself out there, you meet the ones who know what it is to feel those same things. Those people would never judge you and try to change you and force you into a mold.

Those people were meant for you.  They are your true tribe.

I’m still on a journey to find my tribe.  Because I know there are more of us here, in this little space, and in this broad world, who need people like me to see them and love them.  There are more of us who are broken and need to bond with the rest. We are meant to be together, and to tell one another that it is okay to fall apart, and that we have the power and the support to put ourselves back together again, every time.  We are meant to tell one another that breaking the trash is better than punching people. We are meant to tell one another “thank you” for letting your angst be a tool to protect me, rather than a devolving mess that hurts someone else. We are meant to put our hands on the wounds of the other and to say, “I feel it too.  It’s okay to feel it. And it’s okay to let it go.” We are meant to love one another and to support one another when the rest of the world can’t seem to understand the level of distress or seem to bear the sight of the damage. We are meant to be bonded in our broken states.

So, find your tribe.  Be the tribe. Let understanding and love flow.  Tell someone you share their struggle. Tell someone you don’t judge them.  Open up space for brokenness. Open up space for healing. Don’t make boxes and molds.  Don’t use “shoulds”. Create bonds. It will help all of us be better, stronger, and healthier–together.