Category: Trauma -After Effects

Trauma, Intimacy, & Sobriety

My sobriety. It is where healing in more than one area of my life began. Because of it, I have found the courage to uncover dark, buried, forgotten, and unknown hurt that ultimately lead to my drug problem, and eventual addiction.

But if you were to pour over the 200+ posts of mine here, you wouldn’t be able to find one specifically dedicated to my experience with childhood sexual abuse, my impulsive decisions as a young person in relation to sex and intimacy, or my struggle as an adult woman to embrace healthy sex experiences.

Connection, sex, and the subject of intimacy have been major front-runners in my self-renovation process and life-recovery. These are areas that have been under construction since day one, and although I have made significant progress, renovations are yet to be complete ten years later. It has taken me years for me to gain an understanding of my own struggles regarding sober sex, vulnerability, developing friendships, and the importance of allowing myself to truly connect within interpersonal relationships.

I have asked and answered questions like these:
Why have I struggled so hard with intimacy? (Vulnerability has never been not my friend)
Why didn’t I ever allow myself to connect with anyone? (For my own self-protection)
How was that related to my drug addiction? (Substances were the one place I let my guard down)
Did my fear of intimacy dictate my impulsive choices? (I welcomed superficial connections only)
Why didn’t I set my standards higher? (I was unable to see or gauge my own value)

Childhood trauma ignites unique feelings & mechanisms within the minds and bodies of small people. We learn to self-protect in ways that work. It feels like living in continuous rush of adrenaline, a feeling of panic, and always with grandiose expectations of we are certain is lurking around the corner. We are always prepared in anticipation of what might be next and we might not be able to pinpoint what to expect, but we are ready nonetheless.

Just to be extra-safe, I created additional safe-guards that I placed outside of my heart and walls were built around my mind. Maintaining control became my focus. I correlated control with comfort, and developed an uncanny ability to compartmentalize and compress.

Put simply, all of my focus placed on preparation & assurance of protection meant that I was out of reach. I lived my life on autopilot. I walked around without the ability or desire to absorb anything real or meaningful. No such thing as living in the moment. No one was allowed to get close. No one really knew me. My relationships and friendships were superficial at their very best. No one saw me anything other than what I was willing to reveal. No one effected me or my feelings in the slightest. Better safe, than ever vulnerable.

But it never mattered how many walls I built, or how much distance I put between myself and others, or how many guards protected my heart, there it was:

A deep desire to feel connect and to be loved.
A desire to feel necessary and important and valued.
A desire to be seen and needed.

Because of my past experiences and the systems that I put into place and practiced,  I couldn’t connect with anyone on an intimate level.

And yet, I still felt a pressing desire to be needed and wanted.

Without having the capacity to get close to anyone on an emotional level, yet feeling a need to be seen, loved, and important, I ended up trading it all. All of me.

I traded being valued, for being desired.
Intimate devotion, for empty sex.
Meaningful relationships, for incoherent physical encounters.
Uninhabited interpersonal connection, for restrained, calculated closeness.
Commitment, for trivial, temporary, frail, companions. 

It has taken me a long time to feel comfortable enough to share this stuff with other people. I still battle immense shame that stems from all that I traded so many years ago. Shame tends to remind me that I am bruised or damaged. It can feel almost as relentless as temptation, popping up in the most unexpected places, reminding me of who I used to be. I also still struggle with believing that I am safe within the confines of friendship, or other areas of life that require my vulnerability.

Despite knowing that I still have some work to do, what’s most important is that I am certain of my value. Regardless of the fact that I walk around with so many inconsistencies and areas that need improvement, I know & believe wholeheartedly that I am worth loving. I also know that my past choices and beliefs about who I was will not be given the power to define who I have grown into. And that is something that I am not willing to trade for anything.

 

Walls & Boundaries. What’s the Difference?

Dust-In-Purple-Light-Artistic-l
In college (I am a former drug-addict who dropped out of high-school and finally started college at the age of 29 and I am still not done yet I will have my degree when I am one-hundred) I learned that a lot of the therapeutic process is self-revelation. Asking open-ended questions and allowing people to answer some of their own questions, is valuable. (And why counselors don’t give advice, but help with guided conversation.)
Often, what will happen is people will talk and explore their feelings and come to realizations about their lives and their experiences just by sharing. Sometimes, we have to find our own way through things even if other people can already see them.

I had a  quick conversation on Sunday morning with a friend, and it may have been short one, but it was full. Definitely one of those times where I feel like God gift wrapped a particular sentence just for me knowing it was exactly what I needed to hear at that time.

To sum it up, I mentioned that I feel like I don’t open up to share because I don’t like to let people in too close. I am more of a surface skimmer when it comes to many of my relationships and I prefer to keep most people at a certain, generic distance.

And this friend reminded me that
“Walls are meant to keep people out but boundaries are meant to keep us safe”….

I just stopped talking.
Nothing like spoken truth to shut me up.
It all hit me like a ton of bricks.
I felt excited and surprised.
(Sort of like Doc does in Back to the Future when he has an epiphany and says: “Great Scott!”)

Yes and yesss and all of the yes’s! 
Why had I not made these obvious connections before?
Two things hit me.

1.) “Oh’ my gosh, JUST- like- drug use!!”

*A wall built up around me might be meant to keep me safe but what it does is it ALSO hinders my ability to experience close relationships with people.
It might help to keep the unhealthy or toxic people far away from hurting me but it also keeps out the positive opportunities to form close relationships and friendships.

*JUST LIKE my drug-addiction. JUST LIKE my life of running from pain.
It was all originally meant to keep me safe and to ensure that I wouldn’t have to feel any of the hard things that I was terrified of facing.
I couldn’t feel the negative emotion BUT I ALSO ISOLATED MY LIFE FROM ANYTHING GOOD in the process.
In the end, I COULDN’T FEEL ANYTHING.

2.) Building walls is not the same thing as setting boundaries. 
(repeat.)

All too often I confuse the walls that I build (and knock down and rebuild) with creating and setting healthy boundaries.

Even though both are used to make me feel secure, ultimately, that is not how they both end up working in my life and within my relationships with other humans.

Walls keep me isolated.
Boundaries keep me safe.
Walls keep me hidden.
Boundaries give me freedom.
Walls keep everyone out.
Boundaries keep the right people out.
Walls distance me from everyone.
Boundaries distance me from toxicity.
Walls ask me to stay closed off.
Boundaries push me to open up to my comfort level.
Walls only allow me limited interaction.
Boundaries open the door for limitless connection.
Walls prevent me from experiencing the richness of my relationships.
Boundaries reinforce my self-confidence and urge me to embrace and exhaust the potential in my interactions and connections with others.

There are so many distinct differences between the two and I really *really needed the reminder.

One thing I have learned is that I will *always* have more to learn and I am humbled that I still haven’t forgotten this important piece of information.

And I am grateful to have wise, patient, honest, people in my life.

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