Guess what? You don’t just “get over” trauma. When you’ve suffered long-term childhood abuse, it’s not like it goes away. It’s so deep inside you, that sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between the pain and the YOU.
This is me telling you that I struggle every day. This is me telling you that most mornings I wake up and my default state is despair. This is me telling you that I have to WORK HARD to think normal, healthy thoughts. I have to WORK HARD to believe new things like: I’m loving, lovable and loved.
This is me telling you that it DOES get better and you have permission to craft your recovery in WHATEVER WAY helps you heal.
And because I want to be honest with you, I’m gonna share what some of my recovery work looks like. This is super embarrassing for me to share, but hey. Maybe it will help someone out there feel like they’re not such a freak show. Because guess what? What happened to you? That abuse you suffered? It wasn’t YOUR fault. And sometimes, maybe you need to slap a maxi dress on it.
So. This is what my recovery sometimes looks like.
Recently, I had a particularly nasty “Triggering Incident” which turned into a full-blown, batten-down-the-hatches-we’re-all-gonna-die panic attack. Followed by a week of PTSD symptoms, double-dosage medication. And my Safety Shield Outfit.
Well. OK, I guess it’s not a REAL Safety Shield. It’s a long, billowy dress. I wear it because it covers All The Things.
I have affectionately dubbed it my My Safety Shield. Because when I wear it, I feel super safe and calm. It’s like having a magical shield all around me and nothing bad can get inside.
Because sometimes? When panic blindsides me? When the PTSD is so bad I can’t eat or sleep and have to close all the shades in the house and hide under the covers? Well, there’s only one thing that helps me feel safe. There’s only one thing that gives me the courage to get out of the house and back into my life: Head-to-toe clothing. Plus, a headscarf. Or a huge hat.
It’s like my own personal hug machine. Or a weighted blanket.
I still don’t know WHY wearing an UBER-modest outfit sometimes makes me feel all better, but it does.
Also, it’s very comfortable.
I can sit, kneel, bend over and sit cross-legged with ease. No more pinching. No more sucking in. No more accidental panty-exposure when I bend over to pick up a kid. Just comfortable, safe, CAN’T-TOUCH-THIS Safety Shield.
Sometimes I pretend my Safety Shield has magic powers like: it makes me invisible or lets me hear conversations happening a mile away. Mostly, I pretend that my Safety Shield transforms me into a “normal” person who can leave the house and do normal things like go to the grocery store–even when I’m in the middle of a PTSD Week.
I don’t like to wear My Safety Shield out in public–mainly because I don’t want to run into anyone I know and have to explain things like: “No, I didn’t convert to Islam, I’m just freaked out the Rapture might happen and I’ve been left behind.” Because AWKWARD.
But sometimes, I have to go out in public, even during a hard PTSD week. Maybe we need milk or food or allergy meds and so, I am compelled to wear my Safety Shield outside.
I gotta say, it’s an interesting experience.
People treat me differently.
Servers and cashiers and bank tellers are more polite. Respectful. The first time it happened, I thought it was a fluke. But after it happened EVERY TIME I went out in My Safety Shield, I realized something about my wearing head-to-toe dresses caused people to behave differently towards me. I don’t really understand that–and I’m not sure I’m happy about what this implies (we live in a systemically oppressive, patriarchal society?)–but it IS true that people treat me differently when I’m swathed in yards of fabric.
And wearing my Safety Shield almost guarantees there will be NO no leering or cat-calls from men. No dudes wagging their nasty tongues out of car windows. No unwanted contact. To be honest, it’s nice. It’s just….calm. Like I can go about my business without feeling men’s eyes on me.
All I know is that sometimes my recovery looks like head-to-toe clothing and a headscarf or big hat. All I know is that it helps me feel safe.
Usually, my frayed nerves and anxieties calm down after a week or two. That’s when I can tuck my Safety Shield back into the far corner of my closet and put on my regular clothes again. Or maybe a miniskirt.
These days, I try to live like I’m no longer a victim–even if that means wearing odd clothes, changing my hair color or just setting alerts on my phone that remind me to pray the Serenity Prayer every three hours.
The point is, I’m fashioning my recovery in a way that works for me. I am no longer a victim to circumstances. I have tools to help me deal with the inevitable triggers of life.
And THAT gives me hope that I AM getting better.
Maybe someday I won’t ever need my Safety Shield again.