Running from Your Hometown and Straight into Trauma

“Well, Becky, to be perfectly honest, it sounds like you got screwed.” The voice of my therapist said over the phone during our weekly sessions. She is gentle when she speaks, probably common for most therapists, but she is brash and straightforward, like the conscious I wasn’t born with. She presses to uncover more parts of my teenage years that I have often talked about, but rarely understood.

“Well, there was the time a girl in my class yelled at me until I cried on the DC metro during our senior trip or the time when a spiritual mentor put me in the room with a bunch of friends who were allowed to say whatever they wanted about me and I couldn’t respond, they called it dissection.” I rattled them off like they were a “pick-your-own-adventure” story.

She gasped. She stuttered. She apologized.

I grew up in the small, conservative part of town. A place far from the urban life I have adopted in Los Angeles for the past eight years. I’m not unique, there are plenty of people in my neighborhood now that grew up in a town just like it. Usually those conversations drift to how inexpensive housing can be in the Midwest or the lack of traffic to get to the grocery store. “Do you ever miss it?” They ask. “No. I don’t miss it.” I respond.

I spent time there shortly after the 2016 election. I sat in the passenger seat looking out the window at the Trump banners that filled each yard and storefront. The shapes of the houses were like a haunted memory, I knew each one, but it felt different from countless drives I had seen them on before. I used this road every day to get to school, I drove past my dentist’s office and the old Chinese buffet on my way to Chelsea’s house. I barely recognize it now. We pass the church near Market Street. We were stuck at the light. I sat at that light my sophomore year trying to keep myself from crying after getting a letter that morning encouraging to end my life. I shoved it deeper into my backpack because I didn’t want my Mom to see it.

The streets were now filled with messages from a person I don’t agree with. It feels weird to see how things have shifted. I shouldn’t be surprised. I’ve changed. The town probably has too. I am no longer in it, but it is always apart of me.

“Oh, Becky…” her voice dropped. “I’m not quite sure what to say.”

I’m not sure what to say either. I’m not sure how to reckon the things I have experienced in my life. I have tried hard to rebuild this house on sand, but the waves keep washing it away.

The past few years have been filled with broken friendships, an unstable marriage, thoughts of self-harm, and loneliness because I was running as fast as I could to avoid being hurt again. Turns out I am actually running away from the freedom I have been seeking the whole time.

I asked my therapist, “Why would you say I got screwed?” She paused. “The things that happen to you weren’t because of you.” My body shifted on the sofa. I was quite (a rarity). I kicked my legs out onto the chaise. I felt uncomfortable. She had opened the box that I tucked so deeply under my bed that I refused to acknowledge it. I finally had a word for it. A word I never used before. Trauma. I could finally call it trauma. That’s a big step for me. A step necessary for me to finally move forward.

I’ve been living in reverse thinly vailed as hitting the gas. I ran to California. I ran into people. I ran into academics, but I never really had a plan on how to “get better”. That’s hard for me to say. I’ve had a version of this blog for almost 10 years, of course I’ve been trying to get better as a person. In honesty, what I was doing was confronting my past while trying to justify why it happened. You can’t justify trauma.

For the first time, I had to confront the hurt, the pain, the shit. I had to stop trying to figure out what I did to make these things happen to me. I didn’t do anything. They just happened. That sucks, but it releases the burden that I have been putting on myself for years. Years that I have spent torturing myself to watch every step, every move, because I might cause the hurt again.

“I’m not sure what moving forward looks like.” I teared up a little into the phone. That’s a new feeling for me too—not having an answer. For the first time, I’m okay with that.