After getting home from meeting a potential date—my first one in more than three years—I asked if they wanted to meet again. This person didn't outright decline, but they pointed out they carried most of the conversation during our time together and found it exhausting. It's a fair assessment.
I cried anyway, not from rejection, but from the frustration of not being able to convey that I have an actual personality. It's a persistent problem, thanks to trauma and sexual abuse, and for the first time, I understood how deeply affected I am.
I don't know how to show up and be seen, even when I want to.
Trauma has a way of breaking people down. It's consumed almost every moment of the last 15 years of my life- from the mental health consequences, such as PTSD and years invested in therapy, to the trouble I have connecting with other people and opening up.
For me to survive the abuse, I disconnected and dissociated from my experiences, my body and my memories. Out of necessity, I was no longer a fully feeling human being, but a compliant rubber cutout. I suppose that's exactly what my abuser wanted.
As I work to move forward and rebuild my life, healing will require excavating for my personality. Who am I really without the weight of trauma bearing down on me?
The bright, energetic girl I was before the abuse seems more like the memory of a completely different person instead of myself. Looking at photos from when I was younger is like looking at a stranger—I don't feel any connection to who I was before the abuse. It's like the trauma erased my history as a person and I became a quiet, isolated hologram, unrecognizable from who I used to be. Sometimes, I don't even feel real.
This has manifested in many ways. For example, I have cut my awareness off from my body. I made my body the enemy and blame it for being subjected to trauma—it didn't do anything to fight back or protect me during the sexual abuse. As a result of disconnecting from my body, I feel numb, don't feel attraction, and self-injure. I also gained weight, because it's the fastest way to become invisible. If I can't be seen, I can't be hurt. On the flip side, an invisible person can't love or be loved either.
What I miss the most is a full range of functioning emotions.
I envy the people who can cry and feel their pain when they're hurt. This may sound weird, because when is pain the goal? However, my numbed emotions turn a world of color into shades of gray. As Lady Antebellum sing in the lyrics of "Need You Now," "It's better to hurt than feel nothing at all." I couldn't agree more.
If we can't experience pain, we also won't experience joy. More than anything else, my lack of emotion makes me feel less than human, and it prevents me from forming compassionate, empathetic bonds with other people.
As I work to move forward and rebuild my life, healing will require excavating for my personality. Who am I really without the weight of trauma bearing down on me? I find myself excited at the prospect of reconnecting with myself—mind, body and soul.
I now have the chance to build the existence I want.
For the first time in years, I have hope I can create a life where trauma's effect will be minimized, and my participation in life maximized. And that's also terrifying. What happens if I open up and get taken advantage of again because I can't be trusted to make healthy relationship choices? What if I turn out to be somebody I don't like? These questions have me teetering on the edge of moving forward because I'm afraid to know the answers.
I have gotten comfortable in the shadow of trauma. It covers me like a wet blanket. Sure, on many days I'm suffocating, but I also don't have to come out and risk exposure. It's a fear of vulnerability masquerading as safety.
On the good days though, I find myself picturing a life full of laughter, love, strength, and leaning in to every emotion. I imagine deep relationships with friends, family, and maybe even a partner. I anticipate the joy of seeing everyday beauty in full color. I want to get out of my apartment more and participate in the world, spend more time in nature.
I want to shed the anxiety, fear, and constant nagging that something is horribly wrong. My goal is strength, confidence, and kindness. I want freedom.
The picture in my mind is beautiful, if I can get there.
Though I'm apprehensive about finding out who I will become as I recover from sexual abuse, I owe it to myself to find my way back to the living, to carve out an existence that is no longer defined by trauma. Somewhere in here is an outgoing, well-adjusted and passionate person who wants to take on the world again. All I have to do is find her.
One way or another, fear or not, I'm taking my life back.