read the full story
read the full story
My name is Emmy. My story is one of trauma and resilience.
When I survived an abusive relationship, the only thing I thought I was supposed to do was run away fast. To never feel that fear again. After 3 years of progressively descending from a happy, awkward, self-conscious and love-obsessed 15 year old to a depressed, anxious, dissociated and suicidal 17 year old, I was ready to do anything I could to make up for all the life I’d lost at the hands of someone intent on my destruction.
What underlined this was a curious combination of hope and shame. Hope because I had seen the light of day, I had tasted freedom, and I knew it was real.
Shame because there was no time for mourning, grief, rage, feelings of any kind that weren’t “positive”. I had read the messages of “good vibes only” and drank them down. I thought they would be my medicine, but they only affirmed the shame that was rotting deep in my bones.
When the relationship ended, I started running. I ran from my identity as a devoted, loyal martyr to a fun-loving, carefree partier. I ran from the feelings of desolation, fear, and powerlessness towards anything I could find that would numb me and get me high. I ran from anyone who tried to get close to me and towards anyone who would fulfill my quest for fun. I didn’t hear anyone tell me to slow down, to feel things, to address what just happened. I’m not sure if anyone tried to tell me. I was headstrong and fearless. I was going places and no one could stop me.
I ran from my hometown. I ran from my abuser’s attempts to reel me back in. I ran from any accountability, any responsibility, any owning of what I’d survived. If I had it my way, I would have never stopped running. It felt so good after being locked in a cage. It felt like life.
But no one can run forever. I started hitting obstacle after obstacle that forced me to slow down. Things that brought me to my knees and made me question everything. How much worse can this get? Haven’t I suffered enough? Running had failed. Now I wanted transcendence.
Toxic positivity morphed into spiritual bypassing, into looking for a way to rise above all the pain. I was too weighted down to run anymore, but I still wanted an escape. Maybe I could merge so deeply into someone new that I wouldn’t remember all the pain? It didn’t work. But I was good at pretending I was okay to everyone, and especially myself.
One day I woke up after the most acute nightmare that I now know was my first flashback. I looked at myself in the mirror, frantically searching for recognition that I was in my current reality, not back in the past. I started having panic attacks everyday for “no reason”. The eczema on my body bloomed and weeped as I itched and tried to climb out of my body. I wanted someone, something, anything to save me.. All of the ways my body and mind tried to show me I was traumatized didn’t go along with my plan of freedom and “good vibes only.”
Eventually there was no more running. There were google searches “why am I so paranoid?” “abusive relationship aftermath” “nightmares about abusive ex” “PTSD symptoms”. There were doors locked 3 times to make sure. There was double-checking the face of every man who passed me by on the street. There were frantic attempts to locate my ex and make sure he was far away. Suddenly the person I ran so far away from felt too close for comfort. Although he hadn’t threatened me for years, I suddenly felt in every cell of my body that he was coming for me, and I had to be ready. Hypervigilance became my lifestyle, a stark comparison to the reckless abandon I used to embody.
Finally, it was too much. With a racing heart I emailed my first therapist. I set up an appointment. It began. First it was a PTSD diagnosis. It was talk therapy twice a month. It was finally learning that there was no reason this happened to me besides someone chose to do this to me. I didn’t deserve it. Shame had lied.
I moved 1000 miles away for a fresh start because it felt like no one around me understood me, so I might as well be around people who didn’t know me. Start new. Become the introvert that it was only possible for me to be. I created a cocoon for myself in the form of independence, self-inquiry, and measured isolation. I started to ride the waves on my symptoms. Actually feel the pain they represented. Finally learned how to cry, after years of emotional numbness.
As I came to terms with all that had happened I adopted a new diagnosis: CPTSD, C standing for Complex. Because the trauma wasn’t one time. It was chronic. Because it wasn’t just flashes of feeling unsafe when triggered, it was a general feeling of being in danger almost all the time. At first I thought healing meant I would walk away from all of this, clean and pure. Untouchable, again. Transcendent. But no.
Over time I’ve learned that my trauma will always be a part of me. There is no going back, there is no “normalcy” to return to. And for so long, this was my shame. That I was different than everyone I loved. That no one could understand. That my brain chemistry constantly reminded me of all the ways it could happen again.
My diagnosis and symptoms are no longer my shame. My story is no longer my shame. My story is my gateway for connecting with others like me. My symptoms are ways my body tries to protect me. My emotions are opportunities for me to accept and nurture what is.
I don’t run anymore. When fear comes, I don’t feel like a failure. I sit and ask it what it needs from me. I give myself the space and compassion I always needed to feel and process the pain of what I’ve been through. I lean on others for support. I ask for help.
I’m a survivor. I know intimately the power this comes with. I know it is not easy and never will be, but I know from the nature of survival itself that I have the power to transform my life, and help others do the same. I know how painful it feels to be alone with your struggle, so I know how healing it is to be seen and heard. I use what I lived through to build a bridge to others. To be an advocate, ally, activist. Trauma will always be a part of me, but never all of me.