By Ria Martinez, MAC, The Mental Wealth Blog
The word “trauma” is such a loaded word in the world of mental health. It is so subjective and can mean so many things to any one confronted by any situation horrible that may or may not occur in their lives.
When you work in social services, the word “trauma” is one you know well and is used as frequently as breathing that sometimes it begins to lose meaning. At least it did for me. As a former therapist, I have worked with every kind of person there is – kids, adults, addicts, the mentally ill; I’ve also have heard all kinds of sad and yes, “traumatic” stories. I’ve got nine years of other people’s experiences stored in my brain, nine years of other people’s pain that everyone began to blur together and that I became jaded to the heaviness of it all. It wasn’t until I was faced with my own trauma that I was reminded by the weight of human experiences.
To make a long story short, I fell in love with the wrong man.
At first, he was sweet, charming, and had a love for my life and God that made me swoon and go weak at the knees. We fell in love hard and moved in fast. He was also a recovering meth addict and a “not in recovery” alcoholic and stoner. His addiction was the third person in our tumultuous 2.5 year relationship which was marked by his anger in the broken walls and doors in my apartment. For 2.5 years, I walked on eggshells in fear of igniting his anger; I shrunk myself to make him feel like “the man”; and I did everything in my power to make sure his world was easy and perfect which would never last very long.
To say it was all bad would be a lie but it was definitely not smooth sailing for us, and at the end, it was downright rocky. It took me months of therapy after our split to recognize and admit to myself our relationship for what it was: domestic violence. By the end of our relationship, I was thoroughly traumatized with a matching diagnosis of complex post traumatic stress disorder to match. Compounded by the fact that I was still working with people through their own issues, I was a verifiable mess for months.
Not the kind of woman to lay idle in her self-pity, I sought professional help immediately after my split and hired my own therapist.
As a therapist myself, I am a firm believer that “hurt people hurt people,” and since I am in the business of helping the hurt, I couldn’t ethically or morally afford to do more harm to the people I counsel by not dealing with my own stuff. However, even working with a therapist, it turns out that my baggage was far too much to me continue working in that capacity. The thought of working with addicts gave me anxiety and the thought of continually working with angry males or other victims of domestic violence threw me into literal panic. My trauma on top of their trauma was too much of a cross to bear, and the weight of human experiences that I had gotten so numb to after the years brought me to my knees. I had to be honest with myself; I couldn’t do it anymore. I wasn’t helping my clients by working in that capacity, and I wasn’t really taking care of myself the way I needed to. So I quit.
It was, hands down, the best decision I ever made.
I needed to take care of myself first; I had forgotten how with all that I had been through with my ex and professionally taking care of others for so long. From time to time, I still feel the pangs of my past but I really put in the work in therapy and have reengaged with the people I love and the things I am passionate about doing. I make time for self-care and have developed really strong boundaries so that I do not overextend beyond what I can give.
Most importantly, I had developed self-honesty with myself. It has taken a lot of self- honesty to know when to let go of the things that no longer were serving me; it has taken a lot of self-honesty to admit my shortcomings and my flaws as a person, a woman, and a professional. Couple that self-honesty with accountability for my own healing through self-care and self-work, I no longer am defined by my trauma but am thriving beyond it. I am unstoppable.