I realize it might be a little absurd for me, the survivor, to write about what it’s like being friends with a survivor. I’ve never walked a mile in those shoes…at least, not yet. But I HAVE learned some things, most of them learned the hard way. I’ve walked through misunderstandings, rejections, unfair judgments, and abandonment after abandonment after abandonment, by those who probably all had what began as very good intentions. Enough to feel like I can still give some insight into what it might be like, and what it might take, to walk with an SRA survivor. And as always, feedback in the comments can add things that I lack in the post. I don’t now and never will think I have all the answers. I have precious few. But I can’t help but add my voice to the mix, because maybe what I’ve gone through will help someone else. Maybe it won’t be totally meaningless, in the end. Also, as I feel like I state in every single post (but it bears repeating), my experiences are my own and cannot be and are not meant to be representative of all systems everywhere. This is how it is for me and my system. Others may or may not relate. And that’s okay.
The short of it is (speaking for myself): I have concluded that we are difficult to love. Whether we are more difficult than any other human being, I’m not sure. That’s where my judgment is probably a little screwy. It seems to me like we are more difficult to love than just about all others, based on the sheer number of people who have come and gone. But then again, that may be a typical life of any typical person. I’m not sure. When I look inside myself, even though the picture is a bit intangible and hard to describe literally, I see a soul that cannot bond securely with anyone; my bonding mechanism is broken. Whether that came first, and then the abandonment, or if the abandonment made me that way, I don’t know. It’s a chicken or egg question. Your guess is as good as mine. In the same vein, as has also been discussed in a prior post, I have a hard time holding onto the feeling (or idea) of being loved once I am out of sight from the ones who supposedly love me. These struggles are easily stated, but hard to overcome. If you’re interested in doing the work, to bond with me, please, please, please, consider what you’re doing, and proceed with caution and understand that it is both difficult and scary for me, but also a deep hope and a longing. But I’m skipping ahead, as usual.
The main thing to know, going in, is that D.I.D. – like any self-respecting disorder – can tend to suck us into the vortex of being almost totally self-focused whenever there is pain or upheaval, and the pain and upheaval tends to have cyclic seasons. For me there tends to be horrific seasons of nonstop turmoil, intermingled with short bursts of peace and rest. When things are hard, they’re VERY HARD. Especially with so many additional “selves” to consider, since they all have separate opinions and needs and issues. On the flip side, in those short spaces of time when things are good, they’re very, very good. What may not be obvious is, I don’t WANT to be so totally self-absorbed that I have no room in my head or heart to care about my friends’ lives. Only after years in this journey was I able to come to an awareness that I can easily neglect my friends’ needs if I’m not careful. And sometimes even when I am. Please understand: it is not that we don’t care. We care DEEPLY. But just imagine you are drowning in a raging sea in the midst of a hurricane, with no lifeboat, and then imagine what it would be like to try to pay attention to anything else other than survival, at the same time. You can’t. When it’s over (or at least temporarily paused), you want to hug your friends and find out the latest news and maybe take in the view for a few minutes. But as has been previously discussed, so often for RA survivors, it’s never really “over” for any enduring length of time. I cannot write about what it’s like to be friends with a healed survivor, neither as the survivor (not healed yet) or as the friend (don’t know any). But God willing, maybe one day.
My advice to those who want to help and/or be in relationship with us: ground yourself. Ground and firmly root yourself in God, first and foremost. Learn, seek to know, and pursue an understanding of who you are in Him and to Him. This is what I believe, but take it and apply it wherever and however you choose, for your own life. Since this is my belief system, that is what I write about, but you can translate it however you like. Know who you are, and know who you aren’t. Ultimately you cannot save us, even if we ask you to, even if we think you can (and trust me, little ones can tend to see more powerful people as a savior). Jesus is the only one who heals, the one who saves. I don’t mean this to say that you have nothing of value to give. I know someone who firmly believes that the same wounds that came from people are going to be healed by people (though obviously not the same ones, in most cases). I think there’s some measure of truth in this, when looked at with a balanced perspective. Relationships are where the wounding happens, but they are also where the healing happens. The trick is for everyone involved to stay focused on who really has what role. God is the healer. The humans are just vessels.
If you have any tendencies toward codependency, be aware of them and be cautious. Obviously there are very few people out there who are going to have all of their own hurts and hearts in a perfectly healed place. If perfection was needed in order to help someone else, no one would ever be helped with anything by anyone. But a minimum level of self-awareness is pretty crucial when doing something as intensive as being in relationship with an SRA survivor (in a helping capacity or otherwise). For the good of everyone involved, the ideal, most healthy thing that can happen is for you to be able to be happy and okay, even if we are not. This doesn’t mean you don’t love us, or don’t care. It means that your happiness doesn’t depend on our ability to be okay, or in other words, you haven’t given away your power to someone who doesn’t need to have it and ultimately can’t handle it. We have enough on our shoulders just trying to heal (or in some cases, survive from day to day), without being asked to also be responsible for whether YOU are happy or not. If you can only be okay if WE are okay, one of two things will happen: we will inadvertently drown you, or we will lie to you. Possibly a little bit of both. I have seen the damage that can happen when others with very, very sweet hearts take it upon themselves to feel my pain in the sense that they won’t rest until I am whatever their version is of “okay.” It’s not good. So try not to do it.
If at all possible, communicate your boundaries clearly, and then stand by them in love. We have been through a lifetime of confusion, double binds, double meanings, deception, trickery, and lies. Love and boundaries are like the 2 oars for our leaky little boat to steer by, when trying to navigate relationships. They must both be had, working together, or we don’t go anywhere.
Promises and lip service mean nothing to us. We’ve heard it all, and then some, and those people are now gone. The only thing that matters to us is actions and consistency. When you’ve been abandoned so many times, to the point where you have definitively decided “it’s not you, it’s me,” you have become future-oriented. You’re looking and hoping for someone who will simply stay. The ins and outs of such staying are inconsequential. In that sense, mistakes don’t matter as much as genuineness. Nobody is going to get relationship perfectly. We ourselves don’t. Welcome to being alive. The last thing we want is for people to walk on eggshells around us, because we know what that’s like. We just want to know that in the end, as long as Jesus says yes, you’ll simply be there. Everything else can be worked out. I remember when Gary Chapman and Amy Grant got a divorce. Back then it was a pretty big shock to the still-conservative Christian domain. At the time I read an article detailing an interview with Gary Chapman wherein he shared some of his thoughts on the broken marriage. In the article Chapman said (paraphrased) “The reason [Grant] cited for our divorce was ‘irreconcilable differences.’ But in the end, there was only one ‘irreconcilable difference:’ I wanted to stay married, and she didn’t. Everything else could have been worked out.” No matter what your opinion is on Chapman and Grant, this is the predominating view I have on relationships. Just don’t leave. Everything else can be worked out.
There are going to be a lot of things that are just flat-out messed up for us. We are sorry. If we could change it, we would. In some cases, we are working on it. We don’t mean to be this way.
Share as much of yourself with us as you are comfortable with. And please try to be patient if we cannot always reciprocate when and where you want us to. We often wonder if we are too dangerous to love, too prone to damaging everyone and everything in our path by our very essence – which is something we’ve tried to change, or in the absence of change, kill. But we cannot kill who we are at the core, without literally killing ourselves. People don’t understand that so often a suicide attempt might be our desperate effort to protect YOU from us. We sometimes think we are damaged to the point of not being capable of contributing anything but harm to the world. But that is another post for another time.
We will disappear when we need you the most. When we’re overwhelmed, caught in a downward spiral, having a breakdown, or just blindsided by built-up problems, we will disappear. This is not an attempt to manipulate you into chasing us. If you feel like pursuing us, pursue us. But know that we are not expecting anything either which way. The disappearance is based on the terror that 1) you can’t handle our deepest messes (which you need to honestly consider), and 2) we cannot meet your perceived expectations as to what you want from us as your friend, when we barely know which way is up right at that moment. We don’t want to disappoint you, but we know we can’t handle even proper social etiquette when we are that overwhelmed…so we disappear. We will usually intend to come back, and will usually bring with it the fear that you’re mad at us for our disappearance. Sometimes we disappear because good things feel bad, and we don’t know what to do with that. A more in-depth look at this can be found in this book, Hiding From Love.
As I am always saying when I close, I’m sure there are things here that I forgot, or just didn’t have the awareness of, to write. But this is a starting point. Cheers. ~J8