In 2014, I put my trust in the wrong man. He was a friend of mine. He was supposed to be a good friend. I told him all my secrets, and he told me all his best lies. I looked up to him and counted on his approval. I thought he was the kind of guy who would never do the wrong thing. He was friends with all my friends. I had no reason to think he would do what he did.
But that summer, he got me overwhelmingly drunk and took advantage of me. I was only eighteen. He was in his mid-twenties. When I was crying and begging him to let me out of his apartment, he told me I was being a child. He pinned me down with his hands and left bruises. I thought my friends would support me, and a few of them did. Others told me I was lying. Many of them pretended to support me but continued to visit him behind my back. This betrayal lasted for months, and yes, I knew about it.
After all that, how in the world was I supposed to trust anyone ever again?
The ability to rely on others came back to me very slowly. I think it was over a year before I felt even the slightest inkling of trust in another. I certainly pretended to trust people, but I was always skeptical of their motives and allegiances. I scrutinized every move my friends made and constantly worried that they had poor intentions. I didn’t like being touched, either. I put up with hugs because it seemed like the right thing to do, but the truth was that every touch made me feel like I was being assaulted again.
Trusting men was an even slower, more arduous process. I’m not even totally there yet. About two years after it all happened, I still struggled to be alone in a room with a man without feeling like my life was being threatened. I never complained about this or told anyone, but the feeling was there. I would get nauseous and find an excuse to end the conversation promptly so that I could go try to breathe somewhere quiet. It had nothing to do with the men themselves. Just me and my memories.
Things have changed. There’s no doubt about that. You won’t find anyone more passionate about hugging than me. As long as there’s consent on both ends, I’m cool with it. I dig it. I talk to guys all the time now without feeling afraid. I can even be alone with them and feel comfortable. I share my story publicly, which requires an absurd amount of trust in people I don’t even know. My life is on display on social media, and I like it that way.
So, how did I get to this point?
I think I started to open up slowly. At first, it was with people I knew intimately, and it ultimately grew to include those I only knew from a distance. I started by sharing little things about myself, like my writing and stories from my childhood. I measured people’s reactions to those little tidbits of information and decided whether or not to share more based on the level of judgment I perceived.
The real test of my trust came when I was in the hospital. I was in a partial-hospitalization program at an institute in Smyrna, Georgia. It was a unit for women who suffered from trauma and/or eating disorders. In our daily process group, I refused to share my story at first. I told my case manager that I never would delve that deep and that she would be a fool to try and make me.
But something changed one day when another group member shared her story and it sounded very much like my own. I couldn’t believe it. How could somebody who had gone through what I had gone through be so bold as to tell a room full of strangers about it? And then I realized that they weren’t strangers. They were fellow women who had experienced similar traumas and were seeking help. That shared experience brought us together as sisters, not as strangers.
After that epiphany, I shared my story with the group. I cried, and they cried. It was an emotional experience that I needed to have. Once I realized that shared pain brings even the most polar-opposite people together, I decided that I could start broadcasting my story to a wider audience. We all have struggles, and we all have our own histories of trauma to varying degrees. If I share my story with any number of people, statistics show that at least one person in the audience will relate.
From that point on, trust, for me, became a way to connect with people. I’ve met loads of people online and in person through mutual trust and compassion. I’ve become closer with the most random people in my life because my story resonated with them. When others decided it was right to trust me, I followed suit and showed them the same trust. This has strengthened my relationships, improved my confidence, and enhanced my quality of life by miles.
But the journey isn’t quite over. Sometimes, I still feel that paralyzing fear of being judged, manipulated, or hurt by somebody I’m supposed to trust, especially when it comes to men. This distrust isn’t founded on the basis of anything the person has done or said. It’s merely a product of my anxiety and PTSD. Reminding myself that irrational distrust is just my mental illness talking does wonders to help this, but I’d like to get to a point where I don’t even need to do that.
In learning to trust again, I’ve discovered that trust is the key to living a fulfilling life. I can’t function alone. I need people. I need people to love me, trust me, talk to me, and validate me. That’s perfectly natural. In order to achieve that level of human connection, I have to trust others with my whole heart. I have to open myself up to potential betrayal or I’ll never find friends or a partner. From my experience, learning to trust is worth the pain. I’ve made the greatest friends I could ever hope to make, and it’s all because I showed them trust and was trusted in return.