What it’s like dating when you have PTSD

In my last blog post, I explained that I left an unhealthy relationship and now I’m single.

I’ve never experienced feeling truly loved unconditionally. My family never loved me. They said they did and I believed them for a very long time. Recently, my mother (who is cut off) found out that I left my ex and she said she felt bad for him and that I should go back to him. When she found out he cheated on me, she said that it was my fault he cheated. My mother also told me she would pray for me to get cancer and that she’d tell everyone who asked I died because I introduced my ex to her and she wasn’t a fan of his race.

My father would tell me he loved me all the time but he manipulated me over and over. He has been on and off drugs and in and out of prison my entire life. He wants me to fit into the mold he has in his head of what his daughter should be. He wants me to be a good little girl and live at home because god forbid a woman lives on her own. I left my husband and they want me to live with them. Although I’m 23 and I have a toddler, they will certainly control me. They will want to know where I’m going and they will want me home at a certain time. They won’t let me spend the night anywhere except at home and lord knows they’d never, ever let me date. I need to be on my own.

I need to get to know myself. And I am getting to know myself. I realized that I’m actually a very friendly person, behind my fear of people. At my new job, I’ve been having no issues getting along with anyone and making connections here and there. I also realized that I’m funny and I love to laugh. I get along best with people who I can joke with all the time, even during bad times. I like dark humor. I’m also extremely insecure.

Because of my past traumas, I get attached to anyone who makes me feel loved, even if it’s just for a night. After leaving my ex, I’ve been on dating apps, looking for hook ups because that high I get while I’m wrapped up in someone else, completely vulnerable, is addicting. I fell hard for the first person I slept with after my ex (who took my virginity and was the only one until we broke up). This guy said all the right things, he was sweet and he knew exactly what to do. I honestly should have known how it’d end up. He seemed too perfect. Of course, it was all a lie. He continued to use me afterwards and I wanted him so badly I would’ve done anything for him. He’d ignore me all day long until he needed something but seeing his name pop up on my screen gave me a hit of sweet dopamine, which is undeniably the best “drug” on planet earth.

Fortunately, through my hook ups and me getting to know myself, I realized the toll the relationship was taking on me. He came along at a horrible time in my life. It was probably the day I got out of the psych ward when he first messaged me and we got to talking. He was really great in the beginning. That’s why I got so attached. Having someone hold my face in their hands, smile at me with so much love in their eyes and tell me that they can’t believe I’m real and that I’m so perfect really got to me. My ex never did anything like that. I was always, and still am, very affectionate and touchy-feely with the person I like. Once upon a time, back when I liked my ex, I was like that with him too but he was always cold to me. He didn’t like affection or physical touch and made me feel like I was bothering him. Eventually, I lost interest. Ironically, the tables turned and towards the end he tried to rekindle things by being affectionate and touchy-feely. By that point, I wanted nothing to do with it. I didn’t want his affection and I didn’t want him close to me. For a long time, I thought I didn’t like to cuddle while I slept but I learned that was wrong when I fell asleep wrapped up in the first guy I slept with after my ex.

Because I’ve never felt warmth and love, I’ve never had someone who wanted to hold me and kiss me all the time and tell me sweet things, I crave it. When I feel that from someone, I become very attached very quickly and I’ll do anything to get that feeling again. I’ll show up at the house of a guy I’ve never met in person before to feel love for the night. When I do that, I don’t consider my own safety. I don’t even let anyone know where I’m going. But I didn’t have any scary situations until a few days ago.

I deleted the dating apps. What I need now is to have boundaries. I can’t give all of myself to someone who hasn’t earned it. I need consistency. I don’t want someone who talks to me only when they feel like it and ignore me for days on end. My friends’ and family’s love is conditional. If I don’t meet their expectations, I’m not worthy of love. If I make too many mistakes in my own life, they will cut me off. If I head down a similar path I went down, everyone will tell me it’s all my fault, like everyone did before. I was forced into a sexual act on a bumble date and everyone told me it was my fault, that I should’ve done this or that. The reality was that I was in a neighborhood I didn’t know in a place full of his friends. But it was my fault that he forced me to give him head until I puked, and then continued to shove my face into my own puke. I should’ve acted the way everyone else would’ve or else it’s all my fault. I should’ve listened to everyone who told me my ex would break my heart, or that the last guy I fell for after him was shady. That’s what they’ll say and I know that because that’s what they have said.

My therapist and I had a talk about my craving to be loved. The craving I have for unconditional love is something I can provide for myself. I can love myself unconditionally. I can give myself a hug, as silly as it might feel. I can give myself the compliments and reassuring words that I need to hear. I can give myself consistent love. I can even satisfy my own sexual needs. I need to learn this because otherwise I won’t ever be able to experience a healthy, loving relationship.

If I don’t learn to love myself, I will always choose the person who does show me love and affection over myself. Even if that love and affection comes with abuse. That’s what I’m used to. Growing up, “I love you” always came at a price. It always felt weird to say I love you to my parents or my siblings. “I love you” was a phrase that was hard for me to learn how to say truthfully. But now it’s something I say all the time because I want the people that I love to know that I love them. Even with my ex, I told him I loved him several times a day. Despite the fact that he said it back, he didn’t show it. And now I have a hard time trusting “I love you”s. It’s hard for me to trust words so I rely on actions and then when there isn’t much action, I panic.

I need to set boundaries. I need to slowly learn to love another person and not attach myself to them at the first sign of warmth. I need to learn how to give myself the unconditional love I crave so badly. I need to be able to recognize that sometimes people who are using, abusing, or manipulating me can show me affection and warmth and that shouldn’t be worth more than my own sanity.

That’s what people mean by “love yourself first”. It doesn’t mean that you are narcissistic or that you are having a good time. It means that even when things are bad, you choose to fill your own cup before you sacrifice pieces of yourself for others. Connections and socializing and love and relationships are incredible and necessary for the social creatures that humans are, but you’re worth too much to give chunks of yourself to people who don’t deserve it.

My life is either falling apart or coming together

A lot has happened to me in the past couple weeks. Quarantine has been immeasurably difficult. I have been living with and coparenting with my ex husband, the father of my daughter. He continued to emotionally abuse and manipulate me. Us being home together all the time gave me no reprieve from him.

Here’s the thing. While I’m working so hard to work through my traumas and to learn ways to manage my depression and anxiety, it’s really hard to make progress stuck in a situation where I feel small when I go home. I described trauma work like being dragged across cement and at the end you feel stripped bare of your skin, feeling completely raw. That means you’re beginning to process things. Trauma work isn’t easy or comfortable. I’ve been going through that regularly with my therapist and in group but I come home to an unhealthy environment and it isn’t helping me get better. I’ve made a lot of progress. I can recognize when I’m in a crisis and I can evaluate what I need in the situation. But sometimes I can’t connect the dots. For example, I had a mental breakdown because I wanted to wax and I heated it up too much so it was too hot and it took too long to cool down. The truth behind that is that I wasn’t upset about the wax. I was upset about something my ex had said to me earlier that day.

I came to the conclusion that I needed to leave him. I couldn’t wait any longer, I needed to get out of that situation. I moved out of state to stay with my best friend until I can get on my feet. I had to leave my daughter back home with him, which was quite possibly the hardest part. Outside the airport, I hugged and kissed her and she cried when I put her back in her car seat. I’ll never forget the look on her face when I stood outside the car door window and she looked at me, pouting with tears in her eyes. It was heartbreaking. On the way to the airport, my ex was giving me a speech about how much he “loves” me. He also ended it by letting me know that he had cheated on me (for the second time) just a couple months ago. When that happened, it was right before I went in to inpatient because I was working so much, paying most of the bills, taking care of our daughter more than he did, while also juggling school. He would give me crap about dishes in the sink or my daughters snacks strewn all over the floor. He would tell me I wasn’t taking good care of her because I can watch her and look at my phone at the same time. I wasn’t allowed to have my own personality. All I was to him was basically a robot there to meet all his needs and disregarding my own.

That landed me in the hospital. I slowly started to realize, through all of the therapy and groups and medications, that I was being abused. I’d convinced myself it was normal. It’s a running joke that everyone hates their husbands, right? Everyone gets stressed out at the thought of him coming home from work? Everyone has panic attacks at the thought of him having a day off? Well, I was wrong. Being irritated at your husband for leaving stinky socks on the ground is not the same thing as being treated like an object.

So while I was going through a very, very difficult time in my life, he was having sex with his coworker in his car at two in the morning to celebrate her birthday. That’s cute, huh? I was basically living my life just to make him happy and he still went behind my back and betrayed me. He never was interested in me for who I am. He just wanted someone to help him with everything.

I left my daughter with him until I get on my feet because I want her to be in a stable environment, not sleeping on the couch at a friend’s place. It was very, very hard to make that decision and I miss her more than I’ve ever missed anyone in the world. After dropping that bomb on me, he made sure to call my toxic, abusive family and let them know I’d be in town. They know exactly where I am. They know who I’d stay with when I needed a place to stay. And they are possessive and narcissistic and believe I should be a good little girl and stay with them, where they know I won’t be able to “embarrass the family”. They also would love to get their grimy claws on my toddler so they can wrap her up in their toxicity and fill her up with the same traumas I grew up in. Not on my watch. My daughter is far too precious to me to leave her with them.

Last night, I was just so drained and heartbroken. I’d left my daughter, my cat, the man I spent four years with. I came to this place, so close to my toxic family. I was afraid to vent to my best friend because I convinced myself she had enough problems of her own and I didn’t want to burden her. I couldn’t control my crying and I told her that I was thinking about going to the hospital. I wanted to cook for her family as a thank you for letting me stay with them. While I made dinner, I talked to her and was honest with her. For the rest of the night, I didn’t want to be alone so I asked her to even sit in the bathroom with me while I took a shower because I was afraid to spiral on my own. That night, I felt that I need to disconnect and focus on myself. I disconnected from social media (though I’ll likely share this just to let everyone know what’s going on).

I need to prioritize getting myself together and getting on my feet. I don’t want outside influences, such as my ex and his friends or my family, to remind me of the past when I want to live in the present. I’m tired of being in a constant disassociative state where I feel like I’m not really experiencing my life, I’m watching someone else do it for me. I want to be stronger and healthier, for myself and for my daughter. I don’t want to instill in her the same traumas I had growing up with mentally unhealthy people who refused to acknowledge there was an issue. I want her to grow up with a mentally healthy mother who can teach her how to be mentally healthy herself. It seems like the bare minimum, but in this day and age it can require more effort than anything else.

So I may or may not vanish for a bit. Not like I have loyal followers on this blog I started earlier this month. Just thought I’d update. Thanks for reading.

Healthy Relationships

Everyone knows the importance of healthy relationships. But how do you distinguish a healthy relationship from an unhealthy one? And how do you know whether it’s an unhealthy person or an unhealthy situation?

Loneliness begins in oneself. It feels like you have no one around you who cares about you, like the world is spinning so fast but you can’t keep up. This kind of loneliness actually stems from a lack of satisfaction in your own body, rather than from others. Of course, humans are social creatures and we need to interact with others in order to survive. However, feeling lonely even in the presence of friends or family often comes from depression. Depression is ugly that way; it forces you to feel so alone even surrounded by people who love you. In your head, they don’t. In your head, you believe that every little thing has a meaning. If someone doesn’t return a phone call or respond to a text message, it feels like they don’t love you anymore. I get into this habit of ruminating, remembering all the times they did return the call or respond to every text. It’s an unhealthy thought process to be in.

A person who has self-compassion and is comfortable in their own skin is able to connect with people when they can, so that they don’t feel alone. Allowing yourself to open up to people who love you is a form of self-compassion. When you choose to phone a loved one to vent and cry and tell them all of your feelings rather than sitting and ruminating on your own, you’re choosing self-compassion. When I say choice, I know it’s very, very difficult to choose self-compassion to the point where you might not even feel like you have that choice. Old habits can be hard to break. It’s even harder when your brain is convincing you no one wants to hear it. In a healthy relationship, people won’t be angry or upset with you for venting. If they are, then they have their own problems to sort out and wasting time on them is pointless while you recover. If you genuinely feel like you have no one to talk to, there are crisis hotlines, walk-in therapy offices, free venting services online. My email is available in my contact page and I’m here as well.

When you come from a traumatic environment, you can feel drawn to unhealthy relationships. When your background is full of people who manipulated and abused you, you’re drawn to it because that’s what you’re used to. I came from a toxic family and was drawn to my ex because, while he wasn’t as bad as my family, he was still familiar. He was manipulative and he gaslighted me frequently. Very early on in our relationship, he convinced me I’m a liar, even though I hadn’t lied about anything and I didn’t even know why he said that. But I believed him.

Another form of unhealthy relationship is the gambling relationship. This person is so kind and sweet to you, exactly what you need from a partner, and then the next second they are completely cold. You feel desperate to get that feeling back. You stick around because the highs are so, so good, like winning the jackpot at a casino. You think if you keep putting in your money, you’ll win again. The truth is, you lose more in the end.

When toxicity is all you know, all you’ve ever been surrounded by, it’s so hard to develop healthy relationships. When I find people that make me happy, I tend to become clingy and smothering because I’m so afraid to be abandoned again. That can actually drive people away. Unhealthy people are often hurting themselves, whether or not they realize it. Unhealthy people are attracted to unhealthy people. Someone afraid of abandonment can become clingy and possessive, or it could be the other extreme, where they will push people away. Either way is unhealthy and stems from past trauma.

So how do you know when you’re developing a healthy relationship with someone? The best advice I can give you is go with your gut. If you’re with someone who doesn’t constantly hurt you, that you feel like you can be yourself around, that is a healthy relationship. In all relationships, there are disagreements. However, there is a huge difference between shouting and berating each other and calmly talking it over. If your friend or partner shouts when they’re upset, that’s a red flag. A response to shouting could be “We can talk about this when we’ve calmed down.” Or, “Why don’t you step outside for a bit and we can talk about it when you come back?” Proceed with caution. If an angry person is prone to violence, I highly recommend ending that relationship. They are an unhealthy person and they need to seek out help. That’s not safe for someone with mental illness to be around.

The opposite side of the spectrum is for you to be conscientious of how you impact the relationship. It certainly isn’t a one-way street and no one is perfect. My unhealthy behaviors I’ve stated above; becoming clingy, possessive, smothering. I also struggle to trust people. I can be clingy and stuck on them and they could tell me they love me and I won’t believe it. Unhealthy behaviors are hard to get out of, especially when they stem from past traumas. If you become angry and shout and insult the other person, take a step back and reevaluate. These are things you can unpack in therapy. Where does your anger come from? Can you get your point across in a calm manner? If you say things you don’t mean while you’re angry, think about how much you love the person. When you aren’t angry, will you regret what you’ve said? How will it impact the other person? I’m not a therapist, nor did I study psychology for longer than a semester in college. However, this kind of anger isn’t healthy in a relationship.

Sometimes you might have a healthy relationship with someone, but they exhibit unhealthy behavior at one point. It’s important to distinguish the difference between an unhealthy person and an unhealthy situation. Like I said, people aren’t perfect and everyone has things they need to heal from or past traumas. People can slip up and exhibit unhealthy behavior. A healthy person will calmly and sincerely apologize, acknowledge their mistake, and make an effort not to make that mistake again. An unhealthy person won’t acknowledge their mistake, or they might feel like they don’t need to apologize.

There is so much more to talk about in terms of unhealthy relationships versus healthy relationships so I will likely make more posts on the topic. Feel free to email me if there’s anything you’re interested in me talking about as well.