2020 marks the 5 year anniversary since I went through my life threatening ordeal when a man tried to rape and kill me. Last year was a huge turning point for me because it was the first time since this event that I’ve managed to get into a healthy, loving and progressive relationship.
It was a milestone.
There have been many milestones in the last few years as I rebuilt my life, but this one has been (by far) the most cherished. Getting here hasn’t been easy, and even now, within the relationship there are some incredibly challenging parts. However, it is 100% worth it and I want to share my insights for anyone who is trying to pick their way through the ptsd minefield of trying to have a romantic relationship.
The biggest challenge I continue to face is that the fear within me presents itself in so many different ways, and sometimes I don’t recognise it. That’s nothing new. In fact, a main part of this journey has been about consistently opening up to others about what is going on in my brain – often extremely erratic fear induced stories that I was telling myself. Stories with no logical sense when compared to the reality, but in my ptsd brain I was convinced that it was ultimate truth and would definitely happen.
This fear crops up in so many ways and if my man hadn’t been very persistent when we were dating then we probably wouldn’t be together now, simply because I kept pushing him away.
I kept telling myself stories about him that weren’t true. I’d find excuses to be annoyed with him so that I could validate undesirable traits within him, traits which often weren’t there. For example, if he was late I’d tell myself that it was because he was lazy, couldn’t keep time management and because of that, he wasn’t someone I should be with. I would focus on the superficial things and magnify them and make conclusions about his whole character because of them. When the reality was that I hadn’t yet found out who he was to even make those conclusions in the first place.
The thing was that regardless of all the negative self-chat in my head, deep down it felt good to be with him and throughout my whole healing journey it was following what felt good that lead me to heal so fast. That’s why I knew that I had to follow it this time too. When I made that commitment, I realised that all that was left was fear – a fear that brought me to tears because I was so scared of opening up and being vulnerable again. Time and time again I’d have to release those tears, put my big girl pants on and keep putting myself out there, date after date. It was hard, but I’m very glad I did.
Another huge challenge that I face is how easy it is to fall into old patterns of blaming, shaming and judgement. These strategies are ego defence mechanisms that crop up because of fear and stop someone from getting close to us or our heart. What I’ve found is that it’s very seductive to fall into these old patterns and that the attraction of ‘being right’ is a strong force of pull. That even when I am at my most mindful, this fear can still engulf me and cause me to act in a way which is destructive to the safe emotional space my partner and I have worked so hard to build. A space that takes such a long to create, and can be eroded in seconds with harsh words or careless actions.
While it’s hard to catch this in the moment – whether you suffer from ptsd or not – it is imperative to acknowledge this behaviour and take responsibility for our own actions. It’s important to say sorry meaningfully and understand that it may take time and trust until full forgiveness is given. This is humbling and incurs a feeling of guilt, but it’s necessary to build up that foundation of trust again.
As well as that it’s necessary to understand why that behaviour cropped up in the first place, so we can start to break it down and become aware of how we can choose differently next time. All of this requires hard conversations, honest self-reflection and the commitment to becoming a better person every time we fall back into old patterns. Again, it’s humbling work but the rewards are worth it.
Another challenge on this part of the ptsd recovery journey is believing in the value of self, in yourself.
This is a lesson that I had to learn time and time again. I knew I’d finally learnt it when this man entered my life, because it was the first time in years that I’d romantically engaged with a person who actually valued me for who I was. Prior to this I was finding myself attracted to men who treated me in ways which devalued my sense of self-worth. Men who were aggressive towards me, men who belittled me, men who shamed me, dismissed my talents and left me feeling ashamed of being the ‘intense’, ‘questioning’, ‘demanding’ person that I am. The reason why I kept finding myself in these relationships was because I needed to fully heal within myself and get to a place where I felt complete acceptance and love for who I am. I knew that once I’d healed to that point, that I would naturally attract a person who mirrored that. As the old saying goes, you can’t love another until you love yourself. Another take on this is that when you value yourself highly you simple don’t entertain the option of getting involved with someone who doesn’t appreciate that value equally. Quite frankly once I got there, anyone who didn’t value me simply didn’t get a look in, let alone an opportunity to date me.
The romantic-relationship-with-ptsd journey is an interesting one. I’m sure it’s different for everyone but I hope my insights provide some guidance for anyone who’s struggling.
As with all this healing, know that you’ll get through it and stay curious to the lessons it presents. Life is after all a series of lessons along a journey, the trick is to enjoy the fun along the way.
I’m on a mission to create a greater sense wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. To teach others how to connect authentically with themselves, so they can connect authentically with others. It starts with learning self-awareness, maintaining a strong value system that serves us, and having the emotional intelligence to move through a whole spectrum of emotions so we can connect without attachment.
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Picture by me, of me and my man holidaying in Thailand.