Note of tough love from a fellow victim: If you are single, living with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and have not been treated or seen a counselor, then you have no business dating or trying to start a new relationship until you get some guidance from a professional. You are not doing yourself or anyone else any favors by ignoring it.
70% of Americans have been through a traumatic event at some point in their life. About 20% of those people will go on to develop PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, that’s roughly 31.3 million people who are or have been afflicted. When most people think of PTSD, I think their mind goes to war veterans, but it is actually a more common struggle than you think. The National Institute of Health even called it “A growing epidemic.”
Maybe like me, you are one of these people and you understand the difficulties of navigating an invasive world that has little to no patience for people like us. You’ve been through trauma therapy and you know that “wherever you go, there you are” and incidentally so is your trauma. You’ve worked hard to face your demons and fears and you are in a good place but the truth is you will never be the same. Trauma changes you. The person you were before the traumatic event ceases to exist and you have to create a new self. Even with the most patient and accepting support systems and a stellar set of coping skills, “regular” life can be downright daunting at times. Especially when it comes to finding a romantic partner who loves and accepts you for who you are, trauma and all. Here are some things I have learned on the road to recovery and love.
1. Don’t unload the whole crazy wagon on the first date.
This is great common sense advice for anyone, “normal” and traumatized alike. A sane person without PTSD would never start a date with “So I was born…” and lay out their entire fucking life story before appetizers. While it is important to be upfront and you will need to tell the person eventually if you start seeing each other more seriously, it is ultimately your private business and it is up to you when you divulge that information. Plus, if you just come at them right out of the gate with “Yeah I have PTSD because when I was seven years old I was raped by a family friend…” you WILL scare them away because that is hella intense. Unless you have really severe symptoms, like a noticeable body tick, at least let them find out your favorite color or the name of your cat first.
2. Take it slooooow.
I mean it. Turtle with a broken leg slow. I’m not just talking about sex either. Whirlwind romances are not for people with PTSD. You have been through a terrible ordeal. Maybe even more than one. You are a strong survivor but you are also fragile. You have to be smart whom you give your heart to. A person can only take so much heartbreak in one lifetime. The more times your heart breaks the harder it gets to put it back together. I know this from experience. Just take your time and get to know each other. Be open about what you’re comfortable with and stay true to yourself. Don’t let anyone push you or pressure you into anything that feels wrong. Trust that gut of yours. Chances are your experiences have given you a new super intuition. Learn how to channel that. Just be sure to check yourself and make sure it really isn’t right for you and not just your avoidance symptoms kicking in. I have missed out on many opportunities social and professional because I let my “flight response” take control.
3. Don’t let your trauma define you.
Yes, I am a woman who has been through multiple traumas. I was sexually assaulted when I was seven years old and again at age twenty-two and that isn’t even all of it. However, I am also a woman, who has a BA in English Literature from the University of Central Florida, a social media manager, a vintage collector, an artist and craft enthusiast, a sister to three fantastic younger siblings, a mom to a rabbit and two crazy Chihuahuas, a loyal friend, candy connoisseur, avid tree climber, and so much more. Sometimes it’s easier to label yourself and let others label you as “Victim” but you are so much more than that! You are NOT your trauma. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Focus on all of the wonderful quirks and nuances that make you, you. If someone keeps trying to define you by the tragedies you survived, be it death, rape, assault, or fighting in a war, then they are not the guy or gal for you. The right one will see the real you and not just a rape victim.
4. You don’t always have to be polite.
“Were your parents not around much or something?”
“Yes they were around. Why?”
“Well then how did someone molest you?”
People, you would not believe the idiotic, insensitive crap that comes out of some moron’s mouths. It takes so much courage to be honest with someone about your past and put yourself out there. For most people with PTSD, just talking about it or telling the story is equal to reliving the entire episode or event. You are exposing the most vulnerable of wounds and the slightest bit of ignorance on another’s part can destroy you. You don’t have to put up with it. You have gone too long with out a voice. Speak up. Or if it doesn’t even dignify a response you can do what I did to handle the above conversation and just get up and walk out. The bottom line is people are ignorant and nosey. People are just going to blurt out whatever crap that comes to mind without thinking or ask rude prying questions that you don’t want to or have to answer. Don’t waste your time on them. The right people to have in your life are the ones who listen to you, tell you “I’m so sorry that happened to you,” and respect your privacy.
5. Never Forget: It’s Not Your Fault!
It is common for many people with PTSD to feel a great sense of shame or to blame themselves for what has happened to them. Which can definitely inhibit you and make it scary to enter the dating world. Not only that, but there are many stigmas placed on PTSD sufferers by non-traumatized individuals who are uninformed or simply don’t understand. Such as, “girls who were molested as children are totally fucked up,” “Don’t date her, she has issues, she was raped,” or “Sir we can’t hire you because you’ve killed people in the war in Afghanistan. “ Yes we have seen and experienced things most people only read about or watch on Television. Yes we experience symptoms such as, anxiety, body ticks, night terrors, depression, insomnia, avoidance, increased emotional arousal, even substance abuse, the list goes on…
That doesn’t mean we are broken, it doesn’t mean we are inherently damaged, it means our bodies, minds, and hearts are having a NORMAL reaction to trauma. You didn’t ask for it. You didn’t cause it. It happened and now you are putting yourselves back together and you deserve to find love too.