In my previous post on this topic, I covered coming out to yourself, your therapist and your support or therapy community. The final two really difficult steps are coming out to friends and lovers (level one and two) and coming out to or confronting your family. The family piece might come before the friend piece, so these are not necessarily the order in which they are done, but perhaps are the order of complexity and potential for pain.
These were basically the only types of coming out I did for a long time. My flashbacks and anxiety had settled down considerably, and I was no longer focusing my life on healing 24/7. I could have friendships and relationships without ‘having’ to come out as a survivor, because it didn’t affect my daily life much.
This was good, of course, because I got to have an actual regular person life, or at least a reasonable facsimile. If I didn’t want to tell my friends or lovers, I didn’t have to. I could ‘pass’ as a civilian, and didn’t need to show my survivor armour all the time. However, over time I got lonely. When you hide such large parts of yourself – both the bravest, best, most resourceful self that has overcome enormous odds at great cost, and the open, vulnerable self that can accept love into her core and be seen as she is – there’s only a narrow band of person that people have access to. Some people seemed to sense that I wasn’t showing them much of myself, and found it hard to connect with me, and easy to judge me. It didn’t seem to matter that I felt that I was hiding my survivor stuff to protect them from unpleasant realities, along with protecting myself from experiencing direct rejection over it.
There is a way of coming out that I did during this time that is relatively safe, because it doesn’t reveal these parts of self. I did this over a long time with both friends and lovers. It’s the “bare facts with no emotion and I’m just fine now” version of the story. Bare bones, sanitized and over. Even this tiny amount of abuse truth can bring up big reactions in civilians. They get all upset about it and need you to reassure them, in clear violation of the kvetching order. Sometimes, if you are very lucky, your friend or lover will be a survivor and will disclose in return, which is a lot easier and you now usually have an ally. Sometimes you get someone who discloses who is early into their healing journey, or in denial about most of it, and you end up needing to manage their response. In short, it’s complicated.
When my abuser got really ill and I was hoping he would die soon, I found all my survivor gunk re-activated. (It sounds like a superhero chant, doesn’t it? “Survivor Gunk, Activate! Power of Emotional Flashbacks!) If found myself missing the old days when I had a support group that was already up to speed on my story, friends who knew what a flashback was because they’d had them themselves and people who never asked if I was ‘going home’ for Christmas. The old support type events and groups I had been connected to back then were gone when I went looking for them, and my new people were all civilians.
I set out in search of some survivor friends and reached out to the ones I already had. I also started to disclose a little more. Writing this blog helped a lot, and really helped me come out to people in my regular life, some of which I’ve chronicled in my blog. As I became more open and had more friends, civilian and survivor, who I could be real with without them overreacting, I began to settle in and feel a lot more connected with people. When I had my biopsy last year to diagnose the inflammatory condition on my vulva, I had 6 close friends, male and female both who knew what was going on and who messaged back and forth with me on my phone about it as I waited in the doctors office. There’s a place of wholeness which comes from people being able to see you as you really are, and I think it’s good for us as survivors to actually not be alone with it in our daily lives the way we were forced to as children. I’m not saying it’s easy, because it’s not, but it gets easier with practice.
Lovers can be tricky to disclose to as well. One time, I disclosed to a woman I’d been dating. We haven’t been seeing one another very long, and I even suspected she might be a survivor, something that makes explaining a lot easier. Her response was to cut me off, literally mid telling, with stories of her own. This is a very common way that people respond to their discomfort with hearing about abuse. For me, now that I’m aware of the skin condition of my vulva, I’d prefer to tell my lovers about it frankly, rather than just say I have ‘sensitive skin on my vulva that needs special care’. I would like someone who is going to be interacting on a regular basis with the peach to know why it was critically important, say, that I be touched with care and attention or I’d be in pain. Although, come to think of it, with minimization in play for most people, that’s not likely to work either…. Hmm… I may need to rethink that. Or maybe not. If someone can’t handle the reality of my body and experience, the whole of who I am, then I probably don’t need to be sexual with them.
In this instance, the woman in question immediately began to tell me a lot of long triggery stories about people being abused, beginning with one of a friend of hers being ‘falsely accused’ of abusing his daughter. Once I realized what was going on and switched from the ‘supportive listening’ mode I go into when people tell me heavy things into the ‘wait a f–ing minute, I don’t want to hear about this’ mode. I told her “I’m going to stop you here. This is too close to home for me and I’d rather not talk about it with you.” To her credit, she immediately apologized, and kept apologizing for the next several hours, forcing me to repeatedly tell her it was fine, and to just forget it. However, she kept doing it, by telling me several other stories and asking me questions about my vulva issue. It’s not that I didn’t want to talk about my vulva, I’d brought it up, but in context with all the other triggery stuff, probably not the best time. I handled it with calm and good boundaried care, because I have ego attached to making sure people understand I’m fine and healed and stuff. However, when she was asleep and I was alone in bed, I was for the first time in a long time, having irrational fears of being attacked in my bed. I managed to dispel them and go to sleep, but damn, I didn’t need that, and it’s not how I want to feel around a potential lover.
Next post: What I learned, and what some ‘best practices’ might be about disclosing to friends and lovers.