I think there is a misplaced standard when it comes to trauma.
Most times when you talk to others about living with a mental health issue, the focus of the story is typically about the painful experiences you have endured and survived. Lots of times people want to hear the horror stories of your past, or see the battle wounds you suffered over the years before you finally escaped. When it comes to talking about trauma, sometimes I think people assume that your past is nothing but painful memories, a whirlpool of pain and trauma that is unimaginable to the average person. And while in some cases this is true, not everyone feels this way, especially me.
Yes, I have a painful past, I have survived horror story situations and experienced things I would never wish on my worst enemy (not that I have many), but not every waking moment from my past is riddled with dark times. Not every moment I lived with my abuser did I suffer the unimaginable, but for some reason, this statement seems to baffle people.
Now don’t get me wrong, I never talk about my abuser in a positive light. When people ask me about my past, his name is not mentioned with a kind-hearted tone or a giggle in my voice. If anything, when his name rings in my ears, I’m instantly filled with dread, making me sick to my stomach.
But sometimes, out of the blue, in the most unassuming moments, there are triggers that suddenly send me back to a time – or a brief moment – where I wasn’t being abused by him; a brief glimpse of what life was like before the abuse; the rarest moments in my life where I thought: “Maybe things won’t get any worse.”
(Side note: They always got worse.)
One of these moments happened recently. It’s when I heard the song “Ballroom Blitz” playing on the radio and I was instantly taken back to when I was 12 years-old, still living with my abuser.
Picture this: I’m in his truck, driving with him to a family meal at my grandparent’s house. We had just pulled out of the driveway and he flicks on K-Rock. A few seconds later, the song starts to play. We look at each other with smirks. We know what’s about to happen.
“Are you ready, Steve?” he sings. I reply with the, “Uh-hun!” Next thing, we’re both dancing wilding around the cab; I’m waving my hands in the air in front of me and he’s banging his fingers on the steering wheel like a drum, both screaming “Ballroom Blitz!” the minute the chorus starts.
In that moment, do you know how I felt? I was happy. For a brief moment in my painful life, I had a normal moment with my Dad. That’s what he was exactly. Just a Dad. And I was just his daughter. He wasn’t the abuser who threw my math book at me the night before. And I wasn’t the girl who had cut her legs later that night to release some of the mental anguish I was suffering from.
In that moment, we were simply just living.
Looking back on this memory is ironic for me, considering the opening lyrics to the song are: “Oh, it’s been getting so hard/ Living with the things you do to me.” It’s like the song was trying to warn me ahead of time about how shitty the next year of my life would be: the abuse getting worse, severe depression, and my first failed suicide attempt.
Even though I was mentally taken back to that moment, it only lasted a few seconds, only long enough for me to register the song was a trigger and I slammed off the radio.
These moments are very conflicting for me, and it has taken a lot of therapy and hashing out my feelings to come to terms with the fact that, despite the years of abuse, there are happy moments that exist with my abuser. There are moments where I thought he was a good Dad – a decent human being.
While sometimes these moments bring the slightest smile to my face, they also immediately fill me with guilt. How can I be happy with anything that involves my abuser? And worst of all, why are there moments where I grieve these moments?
The answer it’s simple: It’s because it’s normal. Just like losing a loved one, I lost a lot in my teenage years. While I got away from my abuser, I also lost a father. I lost contact with his side of the family. I lost my family home. I lost a life that looked perfect on the outside to everyone else.
Even to this day, I still grieve these moments. Why? Because the small part of me – the inner teenager who wished for nothing but a normal life – wishes that all my experiences with my abuser could have been that carefree. But the older I get, and the more repressed memories I uncover through therapy, I realize that this would never have been possible.
Despite these moments, he would have never changed. At the end of the day, he still made the choice to hurt me, over and over again. At the end of the day, his hate for my mother weighed more than any love he ever had for me. And whether there was mental illness involved on his part or not, it doesn’t excuse the fact he put his hands on me. It doesn’t outweigh the fact that he mentally and emotionally tore me a part to the point that I thought my only escape would be to take my own life. And when he didn’t get his way, he used these good memories we shared as a reinforcement when he was gaslighting me. It crippled me mentally for years.
Yet, for that split second when I hear the tune to “Ballroom Blitz”, I can’t help the ever-so slight smile that pulls at the corner of my mouth.
Now, don’t get it twisted. Just because I still have these good memories, they don’t cancel out all the trauma and pain I went through as a child and into my teens. On the scoreboard, the bad memories will always trump everything. And even though these good memories exist, they don’t blind me to all that I went through. At the end of the day, I was still abused into my teens. No amount of good memories can allow that to be ignored. And even though I did have good memories with my father, what he has done to me, I will never be able to forgive (or forget).
But I still grieve, and I know I always will. I was a child who had everything taken away from her, and now I’m adult still trying to pick up the pieces and put myself back together. As the years go by, the good memories hurt less, just as the painful ones do too, but they will always be there. They are a part of me. They make me who I am today, whether I like it or not. Maybe some day I’ll be able to listen to that song with my own son, sharing in the same silly behaviour without triggering myself, and maybe I won’t. We can always pick a new song.
That’s the beauty of it: As I get older, I get to make new, good memories. My life today isn’t clouded with abuse and trauma. I have a very loving husband, and a beautiful son. I never thought I would ever get to this point, but here I stand, stronger than ever. And while I take moments throughout my life to grieve all that I have lost, I get to move forward and start again. I get to feel real love by someone I care deeply about. I get to pick a new song… Maybe my son and I will rock out to something by Bad Wolves, because let’s be honest, he’s going to be a metal head like me, too!
I’ll make new memories, memories that I won’t grieve.
But it’s important to remember, it’s ok to feel grief for a past long gone. It’s ok to grieve the happy moments that no longer exist. Loss is loss, no matter how you look at it, and I know with time, I will heal. With time, the burden gets less heavy.
So, take the time to grieve then pick yourself back up.
Good things await.
And as always,
Fight the good fight!