My Husband’s Developmental Trauma Changed Me

My husband’s developmental trauma changed me.

Seven years ago, my husband of twenty years began to experience a series of visual flashbacks. These emerging memories pointed to a very different childhood than he had previously remembered. And the images didn’t stop. Once begun, frightening waves rolled through his mind. Unable to cope with what was unveiled to him, he shut down, regressing to an eerily childlike state.

Within six months, he changed.

And I began to change too.

There were rapid and necessary changes. I became the primary decision-maker and household manager. I took over parenting duties.  In my early forties, I became a physical and emotional caregiver to my husband whose daily functioning was almost non-existent. I reached out to therapists and doctors, making endless inquiries. I learned to navigate big purchases we used to do together like buying a new car when our van broke down.

These changes were hard. It was a lot of responsibility and a lot of juggling roles. It required me to think on the fly and to trust I was doing the best I could. However, this way of being wasn’t completely foreign to me. Prior to his first breakdown, I thrived on new challenges, decision-making, staying organized, and being resourceful. It was just the way I was. Only now the stakes were higher, much higher.

The significant changes in me evolved over time with subtle awareness. The changes happened as our family watched my husband disintegrate. The changes happened as I faced individuals, organizations, and professionals who didn’t understand or even know about complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  The changes happened as I tried to find support for myself and was repeatedly told ‘you need support, but we don’t know of any’. And they happened as the overwhelming pressure of caring for an individual with developmental trauma increased.

My husband’s developmental trauma changed me.

Some of the ways I changed empowered me. I discovered I could speak my truth to my husband’s psychological and medical professionals. Some listened, but sadly, many did not. I wondered if there were others like us and since I could not find in-person support, I set up a blog and started interacting online. Eventually, I founded a Facebook group for partners. I took courses, read, researched, and obtained two trauma-informed designations. Most importantly, I learned that many others, survivors and partners, are overwhelmed, under-resourced, and teetering on the edge of burnout just like us.

But other changes in me were hard and sometimes, debilitating.

My sleep and appetite changed. I struggled with anxiety and fear. I became wary of people. I suffered an increase in physical pain. I became hypervigilant about my husband’s symptoms. I started showing symptoms of secondary traumatic stress.

A trauma exposure response may be defined as the transformation that takes place within us as a result of exposure to the suffering of other living beings or the planet. When we refer to trauma exposure response, we are talking about the ways in which the world looks and feels like a different place to you as a result of your doing your work.  Laura van Dernoot Lipsky, Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others

Yes, developmental trauma changed me.

Today, I am learning about my symptoms of secondary traumatic stress. When I can, I work with a trauma-informed movement coach who teaches me skills to self-regulate and stay present. I implement a variety of self-care practices throughout my day. My husband has an excellent therapist who also does neurofeedback with him, and sometimes me. She is open to my input and observations, which takes the pressure off.

I feel grateful for where I am today.

I am not who I was seven years ago. Developmental trauma changed us. It changed my husband and it changed our family.

My husband’s developmental trauma changed me.