The other day I saw a quote from Dr. Tanja Windegger about CPTSD that said “after prolonged interpersonal trauma, you are even suspicious about support from well intentioned people. This to me illustrates perfectly the dilemma of people who have grown up with chronic trauma (and CTPSD—Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder). Thinking about my own situation, I know that my lifelong quest to connect with people has also been muddled by my inability to fully trust and relax with others around. I’m much better at it now, but in the past the only truly successful way I could be with people was if I was under the influence of drugs and alcohol. These “medicines” provided the ease, which I didn’t posses naturally. Having been adopted and living with the shame that many relinquishees suffer from (our parents have given us up—there must be something very wrong with us), I always had a feeling that I was different from others and that the instruction manual everyone else seemed to have received at birth was missing from my life. I went about trying to guess how to behave, but often felt like a misfit, especially when it came to socializing.
Alcohol and drugs allowed me to change that about myself, but the change was temporary, and in the end alcohol turned into a foe—my last days drinking were spent alone and had nothing to do with socializing. After getting sober I had to learn how to be around others all over again. Many people lose families and relationships during the course of their addiction. It’s not uncommon for people to have to get clean completely on their own—which is almost impossible, as the opposite of addiction has been characterized not as sobriety, but as connection. I was lucky enough that my family never left me and I had their support as I went through the early days of my sobriety. I was able to rebuild my relationships even though I remained cautious about making new friends, and it took me a while to be able to trust people. And that is okay. I know that as someone with CPTSD, the road to friendships and relationships is not as straightforward as it is for others. I know that I can be equally excited as well as wary when making new connections. I understand that the longing I’ve felt all my life is a result of the trauma I suffered at birth when I was given up for adoption.
Some of the outcomes of CPTSD are feelings of “isolation, heightened emotional responses, and negative self-perception,” according to one definition. These kinds of feelings damage relationships, which is why it’s important that everyone around the sufferer is informed and able to attend treatment. Trauma is not contagious, but how the person reacts as the result of it affects others around her. This is why when I got sober, it was important for my wife to find support so that she too could heal from the trauma—the trauma of being with a fragmented, addicted person. It took me a while to build myself whole again, but with support I was able to do it. In order to be able to support me, however, my wife had to do her own work and look at how our relationship was damaged and how to repair it. Ours was a team effort, and it made our marriage stronger and taught me a lot about what real relationships look like. Today, I have many connections. I am aware of my limitations and I am aware of when I feel energetically drained. I understand that sometimes I need to withdraw to be able to take care of myself. Taking care of myself today means that I am also taking care of my relationships—because when I do well, others around me benefit, and we all continue to heal. I truly hope you find the same in your life if you’re still struggling.
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