Avoidance Isn’t the Best Answer
The Past Affects Us, But We Don't Have to be a Slave to its Bidding
by Emily Dreher, Unspoken Voices Contributor
I don’t have PSTD, at least I don’t think I do. And I don’t think of myself as a survivor because it’s really just easier to not think about it at all or ever.
But I do know that it takes a long time to get to the point where you can think about it, and you can start to think, “Hey none of that was normal or okay.”
In high school, I didn’t have the language or awareness to put into words why I would almost always rather stay after school at clubs or go to a friend’s house instead of my own. Looking back now, with distance and time and wisdom and more and more snippets of stories from my siblings, I feel bad and weird and guilty because it never really happened directly to me.
It doesn’t make sense, but I feel like I don’t get to say that I survived when I wasn’t the one who was yelled at or hit on occasion or kicked out at 16. I did nothing. I just stayed in my room most of the time.
But of course it affected me.
I hated times in high school when teachers would reprimand the whole class for the behavior of a rowdy few kids because I felt like crying since I had somehow messed up.
Years later as an adult and hundreds of miles away from my parent, I left work early once (thankfully I was all done and I had maybe a half-hour left of my shift). A co-worker who wasn’t on my team was using an angry voice at someone else across the room for I don’t even remember what. But I do remember immediately shrinking down, breathing faster, tears in my eyes and knowing I just had to get out. I left without a word and biked home, trying as hard as I could to hold myself together until I finally closed the door to my apartment behind me. Alone, I was able to cry and remind myself I was safe, which felt off because I don’t remember that kind of reaction when I was living in the situation.
Right after the episode as I was messaging a friend, I came to a bitter truth. I hung on to the thought “you made me like this.” It makes an angry pit in my stomach even as I reflect on it now, but that indignation feels more freeing than years of thinking I was wrong and I was the reason things were bad.
I try not to think about then, but one time I did broach the topic in therapy, and I relayed that I hate the idea that the only way for me to move forward is to confront that person or forgive them or try to salvage our relationship.
I don’t want to talk to them unless I absolutely have to. I maintain a purely perfunctory relationship because at some point I need to get the rest of my childhood relics out of the house. If they can’t figure out what they’ve done wrong, then that’s not my problem, and it’s certainly not worth my time to play nice any longer than I have to. The point is . . . avoidance is easy.
Maybe that’s not the healthiest or most productive thing to do, and it’s certainly part of a pattern — shaped by them no less — of choosing conflict avoidance. But I don’t care, and I shouldn’t have to. I want to live my life and continue to work my way out of their influence.