My Experience With Trauma
I can remember the exact place I was standing when I noticed the scars on my friend’s inner forearm: the start of the 200m race on my high school’s track, facing backwards, lined up and getting ready to run some ladders for agility drills. I also remember exactly what I said to him when I saw them: “Do you have a cat?” He said no. He actually had a cat, but I realize now that his “no” was answering the question that I wanted to ask but didn’t. That deeper “no” was also a lie.
It took a few weeks for him to open up to me about his depression, self-harm, and suicidal tendencies. I was about ready to finish up my sophomore year of high school, and from that point onward, I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. In actuality, it was the weight of his world that I placed on my shoulders. Over the next year and a half, I became his confidante. Every time he struggled, he called me. Every time he cut himself, he called me. Every time he got stuck in his head, he called me. I believed I was responsible for protecting his privacy and honoring his trust in me, which meant I was lying to my mom, lying to his mom, and lying to the school’s counselor. At the time, I was so thankful. I felt important, and I felt like I was making an impact. I felt like I was responsible for his happiness and mental health, and I felt like a success because I believed I was maintaining it. I believed I was the reason he was staying alive.
It turned out that I wasn’t bringing him up – he was dragging me down. I remember the first time I cut myself. It was August 12, the day before my junior season of soccer started. I remember the second time I drew blood when I cut. I called him because I freaked out, and I remember he told me that it would become easier to see the blood each time you drew it. I remember being calmed down by him saying that. I also remember all of the times I gave him my body to kiss, to feel, and to be on top of because I believed that if I kept him happy and gave him what he wanted, he would stay alive. I remember being proud of the fact that I would do literally whatever it took for him to stay alive.
I made him promise me that he would give me a hug before he took his own life. It was my way of having some control over the situation so I could stop it, but I told him it was so that I could hold him while he left this earth. I remember the exact moment that he texted me and told me to come give him a hug and say goodbye. I was eating some chicken in my kitchen. I was the only one home. I had just gotten home from school. I vividly remember dropping the chicken on the counter and falling to the floor when I received that text, but the drive to his house is a complete blur. I know I was speeding. I know I majorly cut someone off getting off the highway. I know that I called my aunt, who is a psychologist, along the way to ask for her help. She told me to call the police and to prepare myself to walk into his house and find him dead. I remember listening to her.
The 911 dispatcher told me to wait for the police to arrive before going into the house because she was worried he would hurt me. I knew she was wrong. He would never hurt me. The cops, when they showed up, were less than helpful. They were only concerned with whether he and I were sexually intimate, and they paid no heed to the fact that I was frantic he was about to kill himself. He kept texting me, asking where I was, asking if I was coming. I kept having to make up lies, telling him that I was on my way, that I got stuck at a red light, and that I made a wrong turn, knowing that I was sitting a block away from his house, completely helpless to the fact that I knew he had a knife and a bottle of Aspirin in his hands.
While the cops were asking me about our sexual relationship, my mom got home. I might have texted her while I was driving and told her what was going on, but I honestly don’t remember. All I remember is her screaming at me over the phone, cussing at me, and telling me that she needed to be there. I wanted to do this alone, and I didn’t feel that I was capable of managing her emotions while dealing with the situation in front of me, so she was instructed to wait for me in a local shopping mall.
When the police finally gave me the okay to approach the house, I walked too fast and too far ahead of them, and they whistled at me to slow down and wait for them. Though I can’t claim to read the minds of the police officers, all their treatment of me did was made me feel like I was overreacting and that my friend’s situation wasn’t worth serious concern. I remember ringing his doorbell and having him open the door, but I was too ashamed to meet his eyes. I remember whispering “I’m sorry” and stepping out of the way so the cops could do their job. That night ended with me texting his mom, “You need to come home. He just tried to kill himself.”, his dad cancelling a business trip, and him being led out of the house in handcuffs.
I remember the first time I heard from him after that night. A text: “I trusted you.”
That night broke me. I suppose that my precarious mental state didn’t help matters, either, but it has taken me years to believe that I did the right thing that night. I knew how betrayed and angry I would have felt if he did that to me, so I knew I hurt him in the deadliest way that I could have. I took away his control. I know, logically, that I did the right thing. His mom believes that I saved his life, and she’s thankful for me. I’m learning to be thankful for me, too.
I went to one day of therapy. I was seventeen. I was so uncomfortable, sitting in this chair and having a stranger pick me apart to the depths of my soul. I didn’t trust her. I didn’t want to tell her my story. I wanted to get as far away from that tiny room as I possibly could, but I also wanted to get better. I just knew that that environment would not be helpful for me. I was also absolutely terrified that the therapist would tell my mom that I cut myself, so I lied and downplayed my situation. The therapist diagnosed me with Adjustment Disorder and said that we didn’t have to tell my mom anything I said. I felt both relieved and rejected by that statement. I literally ran out of that therapy session and never went back.
I could write a whole book about my relationship with this individual, how it impacted me then, and how it’s still impacting me now, but that’s not the point of this book. Maybe that will be the next one. I’m writing this book because I was in your position. I have an undergraduate degree in psychology and have interviewed many professionals on the topic of trauma, but I am not writing this book as a professional telling you what to do with your life and your healing journey. I am writing this book as one trauma survivor speaking to another and because I wish that I had known what I’m going to share with you here. I wish I knew that there were other options for therapy than sitting on a couch and having someone stare into the depths of your soul. I wish I knew how to handle my friends and family members as I was healing (and I wish they knew how to help me, too). I wish I knew all of the wonderful people that I’ve talked to while writing this book; I wish I knew that there were people like them to help me when I needed it most.
I’m writing this book because someone needs to tell you those things. Someone needs to tell you that you’re not broken and that your trauma is worthy of healing from. Someone to tell you that there are options for healing from the pain, the anger, the guilt, and the sorrow that do not involve talk therapy. Someone to tell you what happens during therapy so it’s not so scary walking into it. Someone to tell you that you are loved, and accepted, and right, no matter how wrong you feel. My hope is that, through my writing and your reading of this book, you can take the first steps toward healing in a way that honors you and is comfortable for you. There is so much understanding to be gained from these pages, about trauma and about ways that you can heal, and I hope that you’re able to glean enough of it that you can start your own healing journey. Understand what trauma is and what it does. Learn about the different options of healing from it. Pick one that feels the best to you and finally, finally, learn to heal. There’s so much life waiting for you on the other side.