One fault of mine, I believe, is that I tend to trust people quite easily…which, given my background, I guess is a bit strange. It’s something my therapist has also picked up on. I inherently want to see the good in people, sometimes to the point of me being very naive. Although I might be mildly wary of strangers, as I grow to know them I will quickly decide to trust them. An example was last week, a professional photographer – a complete stranger – who within the space of a few hours I trusted enough to comfortably travel with him in his car. It was completely fine, but I did look back on the experience and wonder if my ability to trust so quickly is necessarily sensible, let alone safe.
Normally this trust only vanishes if they themselves make a malicious attempt to hurt or harm me. If I hear that they are being two-faced, the trust only feels more fragile but doesn’t change in volume, until I’ve either witnessed it for myself or managed to confront them about it and have it confirmed. Even then, if hurt, the trust doesn’t shatter very easily; I still want to believe the harm wasn’t deliberate, I still look for a reason why they had to do it, maybe they are in need of help and hurting me was a way to express that, and if anything they need me to trust them more etc. I trust in their core selves rather than the behaviour that is projected. So I do trust easily. This has had some advantages; despite everything, I only feel mildly alienated by my past, and more an alienation from society in general than from friends around me. It has allowed me to integrate into society much faster because I blindly trust in what my friends and therapist describe as ‘normal’. Etc. At the time of the abuse, in the ring especially, if total strangers told me they were going to help me, how could I afford the time to assess if this was true or not? I had to gamble. Trust became a gamble, and I learned that blind faith was more likely to keep me alive than trusting nobody.
But of course, it’s also a trait of mine that is taken advantage of not too infrequently. But it’s a chance I’m willing to take. I cannot let the people who have taken advantage of me speak for those who are genuine friends.
So why, then, am I losing my trust in people who have never taken advantage of me or caused me harm? Friends I’ve known for now nearly 4 years, if it wasn’t for them I genuinely don’t believe I’d still be alive, who have treated me with nothing but compassion, patience and belief in my rights even when I treated them appallingly…why do I no longer trust them entirely? Why am I suddenly wary, towards everyone around me? A growing sense of unease and distrust over the last few weeks that now seems to consume me…
I trust people who I barely know more than my close friends at the moment, for no obvious reason. It simply makes no sense.
Eventually I was so freaked out by this that I actually looked back, to see if I’d overlooked or forgotten something they’d done that had hurt me. I felt ashamed and guilty to even be having to assess this, and didn’t for a second believe I’d find anything, but my distrust was so new and strange that it was only sensible to just do a ‘check.’ Of course, there was nothing. I felt relieved but not surprised, and now ever more confused. What was my head doing?
So many people have tried relentlessly to undermine my trust in them, over the years. So many. Some are jealous, some are confused, some are concerned I will cause my friends damage, some apparently genuinely felt I shouldn’t trust them so much, others felt my friends were wrong for being my friends at all. The abusers, in their own mind-game, tried impersonating them, or setting up a situation so it looked like my friends had phoned, or knew what was happening, or had been a part of it, and were secretly spies of the ring’s keeping an eye on me. You’d think, then, that if my trust was going to dissipate, it would have happened then. But nope, never. Maybe a brief wobble, quickly resolved just by looking into my friend’s eyes, who equally never grew sick of me checking and double-checking. Even when other close friends, last year, betrayed me and caused me great damage, it was only my trust in them that vanished – not every single person around me. I never fell into the trap of ‘if they betrayed me, maybe everyone will?!’ It’s unfair on those who care. And gives the ones who hurt me more of a hold over me.
I learned that the abusers were clearly just terrified of any healthy attachments I had; it meant I was likely to make disclosures. Similarly, those in the ‘safe’ world who tried to undermine my trust in them were equally having issues with my attachments. Fundamentally, although all motives and purposes couldn’t have been more different, the issue was attachments.
Attachments affect such a large part of my life (and anyone’s life, I would guess). The more I look at the ring now, the more I can see that their favourite method of control and inducing pain is in attachment trauma. They could rape me as many times as they liked, and they did, but the part that is hardest to recover from is not the rape, it’s the attachment trauma. It’s bonding with my baby and losing her. It’s bonding with the children and seeing them being hurt. It’s the betrayal of friends who became abusers. It’s the number of times I allowed myself to be hurt in the belief that it would protect someone I cared about. It’s the searing pain of being held back and separated from someone I loved. I remember my screams, and the arms around my waist. I took the rape that followed; it was just the tip of the iceberg.
So I treasure the attachments I have. The safe, wonderful attachments where I don’t have to be raped to ensure the attachments won’t be forced away from me. Aside from my siblings, I lost everyone I loved and cared about in the first 20 years of my life – in various forms. After so much loss, I am beyond terrified of losing more. I don’t think I would cope. I don’t think I could handle anymore grief. As it is, when I try to put an image to the ball of hot grief inside my chest, I feel like I’m on a cliff wall, on a tiny fragile ledge, and I’m so high up that even clouds are below me. The air is so thin that breathing is a struggle, and I’m focussing on not fainting, because if I faint, I will fall. I’m very alone. There’s no space for anyone else on this ledge, and there’s no little ledges anywhere else I can use to climb up, or safely make my way down. My life is balancing precariously on this ledge, fighting to keep breathing and stay awake, and not fall off into oblivion. Anymore grief, the air will be thinner, I won’t be able to stay awake. I will fall into oblivion.
And then the paradox: so my current attachments are precious to me, but they aren’t going to last forever. None of us are immortal. So one part of me wants to cling to them, to never let them out of my sight, to speak to them daily so I never have the feeling of regret again…and another part of me is so frightened of more loss that it’s suddenly running away at super-speed. And somewhere, I’m in the middle of this exhausting tug-of-war, with extreme and intense emotions on either side. All reasonable emotions too. I feel the cold fear, and this exists in paranoia, panic attacks and nightmares. I feel the wonder of having such attachments, and this exists through laughter and memories.
Every single morning I wake up, and there’s the niggling paranoid voice: what if today he comes off his bike? What if there’s a car accident? What if the train she’s on crashes? What if she has an accident at work? What if they’re attacked? What if they become ill and I can’t get to them in time? What if there’s a fire? What if they slip in the shower and drown? What if they have a heart attack? What if they fall down the stairs and break their neck? What if, what if, what if…
‘What if’ is such a dangerous phrase.
Every single morning this happens. I cannot describe how exhausting and horrible this is. I sit in my bed, my knees under my chin, my cuddly sock monkey cushioned between my knees and chin, and I just tremble as the voice whispers inside my head, fills my mind with images I could definitely live without. Sometimes I cry, sometimes I run to the bathroom and throw up, sometimes I do nothing at all. Just sit there. With my head filling me with my daily dose of intense paranoia, and also an absurd level of responsibility for each scenario suggested. Rationally I know none of the above situations could be anything to do with me – the point is I’m not there and can’t prevent it – and yet, that’s where the responsibility lies. In my inability to protect everyone. In the late nights of exhausting them and maybe making them more prone to accidents?! But mostly, in my inability to protect. I can’t shrug off the feeling of being so responsible for the other children in the ring, in terrifying and deadly circumstances, overnight. I’ve had a life-time of having far too much responsibility, or (more accurately) being led to believe I had that responsibility. For being told repeatedly how it was my fault. How I was a crap mother. How if I’d been there just a bit earlier, maybe the child wouldn’t have been hurt so much. How if I’d thought of the right words to say, maybe I would have prevented her from giving up in front of me. Etc. So much responsibility, of such terrifying and heart-breaking things. Now that part of me still exists, it can’t disappear instantly, and is looking for something to latch onto.
And so that is why my trust has lessened. It’s not trust in them, its trust in the world. It’s trust in myself. It’s because I was put through so much extreme attachment trauma for so long, and made to believe I was responsible for those around me, and now my head doesn’t know how to manage being in the aftermath. I see friends argue and take on the responsibility. I see friends stressed and I take on that too. All of it, anything, I take on as my own guilt.
Sometimes I’ll just be walking across campus, in a fairly okay state of mind, and the paranoid voice pipes up, and within seconds I’m in a full-blown panic attack. I stop myself from texting them every time this happens. I need to reassure the voice, not allow it to continue plaguing me. If I text my friends for validation that they are definitely still alive, I think it would just fuel the voice, make it think that it’s okay for it to take the breath out of me daily.
Sometimes it happens multiple times in the day. The other day it happened eight times. I couldn’t work, couldn’t concentrate on a thing. Drifted in and out of panic-stricken tears, and in between times just scolding myself for being so paranoid. My therapist just keeps trying to reassure me that paranoia is a fundamental aspect of PTSD, and some of it will be the paranoia I felt when I was younger but had to supress in the hope of remaining sane enough to survive. Also that some of it will be a gateway to processing the sheer level of terror and grief I felt in each situation where I either lost someone, or was wrongly responsible for what they were going through.
And I think that’s true. Some of the memories, that I’ve had for a long time and used to fill me simply with pain and sadness, now catch in a panicked-bubble in my throat. Sometimes I gag. The fear is instantly back and I shake. But mostly the panic. The level of overwhelming panic that I couldn’t protect them, couldn’t spare them, despite just being a child myself this responsibility was real. Last week one of these memories shot me, and the panic took so much of me that I ended up sinking against a wall. My legs could no longer sustain the panic, could no longer hold me up. After the memory, the paranoid voice came back about my friends now. I just knelt on my knees, trying to fight through the hyperventilating, and shook.
It’s another choice thing, though. I could either choose to just live for the wonder of the friendships, and not worry about what will happen if those attachments are broken, for whatever reason. Or I can destroy myself in blind panic for ‘what if’ situations.
I wish it was that simple though. I can’t shut the paranoia up, and it hasn’t been listened to for years but had to manage so many extreme situations. I’ve lost so many, I’ve seen so much pain; the paranoia is a very reasonable response.
So I’m living in the middle, simultaneously beyond grateful and moved by the friendships, and choking on mad levels of panic and paranoia. I want to be close to them, and yet as far away from them as possible.