Editor’s note: This post was originally written in August 2017. Partners in relationship with individuals with complex PTSD often struggle alone. Partners may experience shame and stigma from those who are supposed to be supportive. This is my story of overcoming shame.
If I knew the decision was right, why was I struggling?
In August 2017, we put our home up for sale. The plan: to relocate 2000 km to southern Ontario. The reason: to be closer to a trauma treatment centre that specializes in developmental trauma. My husband is a trauma survivor and we had struggled for a number of years to find the specialized treatment he needs for complex trauma.
We were fortunate. My husband was able to obtain partial funding to attend therapy on a short-term basis this summer. And I had gotten a taste of the therapy offered at this centre while attending a trauma-informed conference there last April.
Weeks before my husband left, he and I had begun to quietly discuss a move. Our family was mentally and emotionally exhausted by five-plus years of little change in his symptoms. I was worried about everyone’s mental and physical health. After months–I mean years–of trying to make it work, I knew we were at the end.
My sense that the therapy offered in Ontario would be beneficial was quickly confirmed by my husband’s growing stability. His voice sounded clearer, his memory was improving, and he spoke with an excitement I had not heard in a long time. But we knew that a few weeks of therapy was not going to be long enough to recover. Encouraged by his progress, I decided to contact a realtor in early August.
I thought: ‘I’ll just have a conversation about listing our home in September.’ One week later, our home was on the market, my children and I were flying to visit my husband, and the move was fast becoming a real possibility.
On the surface, everything was proceeding at a very fast but smooth pace.
It was during those few days of preparing to sell that I became aware of a heavy feeling. I couldn’t put my finger on it but it blanketed my emotions and my thoughts in what seemed to be a completely irrational way.
Intrusive thoughts pestered me. Thoughts like ‘Is it really that bad?’ and ‘Surely we can find a therapist here,’ and ‘Maybe we should keep trying.’
But it wasn’t the thoughts that were most troublesome. I knew they weren’t really true. It was the emotions: weighted, a murky mix of fear, dread, guilt, and anxiety. Yet, none of those words fully described the feeling.
What I did not recognize in the rush of getting the house ready nor in the subsequent weeks leading up to this decision, was the cumulative impact on me of others’ responses towards our situation. For over five years, I had been the ‘spokesperson.’ When needed and when necessary, I explained my husband’s condition. I explained that he was not responding to therapy. I explained why I thought he wasn’t responding to therapy–once I had some trauma-informed training under my belt. I explained what kind of therapy could be helpful for him. I explained and I explained some more.
My husband’s symptoms impacted every area of our life and every relationship. Our life had changed.
And now, I was going to have to announce our move. More explanations.
Over the years, many of the responses to our story were kind. Many listened, encouraged, and affirmed. Many said what I needed to hear.
But some didn’t. And that was hard because some of the responses came from individuals who I thought I could trust. These were people I needed for support.
And it was the impact – really the trauma – I felt from those responses that weighed me down.
Trauma literally means “wound, injury, or shock.” In psychological terms, “traumatic events” have traditionally been considered those that harm the psychological integrity of an individual. International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation
So there I was cleaning, organizing, calming my children, and trying to keep a level head—all the while feeling smothered by this thing–but not knowing what this thing was.
One morning, I awoke with a terrible urgency to get out from under it.
Turning on my computer, a blog post in my Facebook feed caught my attention. Called Cigarettes, Shame and Self-Compassion, this quote grabbed me:
The toxicity of shame on the body is so much worse than any other toxin we can put in. Shame eats away at us, pulls us down, makes us want to hide; hide secrets and put our public self and appearance before our truth. Shame makes us sick, physically and emotionally. We can only keep it bottled up for so long before it turns caustic and eats away at us from the inside.
I almost fell off my chair. That was it! That was the feeling!
I felt shame because it had not worked here. I felt shame because for whatever reason the therapists we had so far connected with hd not been a good fit for my husband. I felt shame because we were done with living in our current location.
I felt ashamed to say goodbye.
Logically, it made no sense. If anyone had tried to make it work, it was me. But shame isn’t logical. Shame comes from the part of the brain where trauma is stored.
Thankfully, once unmasked, shame left the room. Shame left me. Identifying it brought immediate relief. I breathed deeply, my shoulders relaxed, and I smiled in delight at my discovery of this enemy. I could feel the truth.
You are brave.
You are strong.
This is a good decision for your family.
This move is right.
Saying good-bye is courageous.
Partners and Supporters:
If you would like to explore how my services provide partners and supporters with strategic trauma-informed ‘support for supporters,’ please book a 20-minute consult with me.