You are what you are, playa…
I will start by acknowledging that I am a hit dog, hollering.
If there is one internet meme that I loathe more than any other (That’s a long list. I hate 95% of the internet.), it’s “[x human behavior] is a defense mechanism/trauma response.” Especially when the behavior in question is hyper independence.
Let me, Your Resident Hyper Independent Friend, tell you a secret: you don’t have to tell me my life has been traumatic. I was there. Some people can move through the world with no memory of the moment that irrevocably changed their lives, I’m not one of them. I can summon it — and the shock, pain, and sadness that accompanies it — with a tap of my finger. I’m doing it right now.
I was all set to spend this post raging until I had a chat with a former blogger friend of mine (still a friend, the “former” applies to their blogger status) about how “therapy 101” it all sounds. “[x behavior] is a trauma response” is a sentiment of discovery. An “Ah, I didn’t know this about myself.” No wonder it warrants a shrug from people who are intimately familiar with their dark corners. Well, obviously, we say, rolling our eyes. I’ve been through some shit.
Instead of raging, I’ll describe what comes after that discovery.
* * *
I’m not sure when I accepted that The Thing That Happened would always be there. Definitely after therapy. After releasing the story to strangers I don’t remember individually but collectively and lovingly as Day Camp for the Mentally Ill, I recall the hush in the room followed by the words I’d waited twelve years to hear: That shouldn’t have happened to you.
Therapy did not relieve me of my pain, but it confirmed I wasn’t crazy for feeling slighted. That The Thing was every bit the aberration I’d experienced it as, despite how easily the perpetrator dismissed it. So that got me out of the blocks.
But I still thought I could fill the places where I was shattered. With achievements. With romantic love. With experiences. I thought I could write, goal, and vision board my way into proving see? I’m not broken. The Thing That Happened happened, but I am not broken.
I ran myself ragged posing as a go-getter when what I desperately needed was to not be The Person The Thing Happened To. As every “happily ever after” I conjured to pull myself out of the darkness crashed around me, I found myself once more living a Jay-Z lyric: “No matter where you go, you are what you are, playa. And you can try to change, but that’s just the top layer. Man, you was who you was ‘fore you got here.”
Somewhere, there’s a tweet/journal entry/blog post where I asked: And what if I am broken?
I still had expectations to meet. I had to get up every day, earn a living, take decent-ish care of myself, and try not to bleed all over the people around me. I’m probably fucked up, I realized, no longer concerned with the answer to that question. Let’s make sure we don’t fuck up our life, though.
* * *
So back to these trauma responses. Not the ones that make you a danger to yourself or others, but the emotional limps we walk with as a result of living.
We learn about the world by interfacing with it. Fire is hot. You touch fire, it burns your hand. Therefore don’t touch fire. When you consider the fact that we’re inherently flawed, thus destined to bump, run, and crash into each other and leave plenty of scars along the way, there is no neutral to return to. No vacuum of human experience that leaves you unshaped by your circumstances. If That Thing didn’t happen, Another Thing would have and you’d just be broken in a different place.
So sometimes, memes around “healing” sound like the latest self-improvement craze. Except instead of trying to optimize every aspect of our lives for peak performance, we are stripping away our hard-earned survival skills so we may manifest Utopian lifestyles that don’t require survival because that is our birthright, dammit.
My experience with healing sounds more like what Cheryl Strayed described in her essay The Love of My Life:
Healing is a small and ordinary and very burnt thing. And it’s one thing and one thing only: it’s doing what you have to do.
For some people, that looks like flinging their arms wide and welcoming whatever the world has to offer. For others, it’s donning a layer of protective gear, putting one foot in front of the other, and getting it done.
For you, it may be some method I can’t even fathom.
But it’s not always linear. And rarely as simple as getting in touch with Who You Were Before The Thing Happened. That person exists in an alternate reality and you are here.
The Person The Thing Happened To,