I've recently made my way to the other side of "victim" status. For just over a year, I needed unconditional support, encouragement, non-judgemental words, and to be a complete priority in my family's world so I could heal from sexual abuse. And I got all of those things, so I don't identify with "victim" or "survivor" anymore. Now I'm a warrior, an advocate, and hopefully helpful to others.
The transition happened so quickly for me in large because of my husband. Matthew made his role as my support system seem effortless. Believe the victim. Listen without critism. Tolerate the mood swings, the anxiety, the need for no physical touch. Every piece he handled with care and near perfection.
Then our roles flipped.
He's not a survivor of abuse like I was. He's a survivor of war. My husband is a combat veteran, and, much like me, has been very good at pushing aside the trauma he experienced so he could function as a person.
Also like me, the symptoms of Matthew's trauma have decided to show up at a most inconvenient time. We are in the middle of doing life with six kids, finishing a master's degree, and just trying to keep our heads above water. Dealing with another year of PTSD in our home was not on our bucket list. Or even our to-do list at this point.
Yet here we are.
Now I need to be the support system who can do this with excellence. I need to have unlimited patience, say all the right things, and keep our household moving as my husband navigates towards his own emotional health. I need to have strength when I am weak, calm when I am spitting angry, and joyful when I am overwhelmed.
AND... I am deeply concerned I can't pull it off.
I want to be everything for Matthew that he was for me, but I don't naturally live at his level of excellence. I want to give him the same gift he gave to me by making this process as smooth as possible, yet often I find myself floundering with my words and responses.
How can I be stumbling so much when I know what I needed only a few months ago?
Friends, this is not easy. Being a victim of any kind of trauma is a literal nightmare. But being the support system to a victim of trauma is it's own kind of hell. At least that's if you want to do it well.
We severely underestimate how awful trauma can be for the supporting figures in our lives. When a person we love is faced with life-altering events, if we acknowledge it as traumatic (because sadly sometimes we don't even give them that dignity), we often neglect to recognize how challenging these circumstances are for the people surrounding the victim. If we acknowledge the trauma, we can forget to acknowledge the difficulty family and friends of the victim experience as they walk their loved one through the healing.
How do we do this well? How do we support and love a victim where they are yet still encourage bravery to move forward? How do we stand by, stand firm, and still stand up for ourselves? How do we allow them to experience all the emotions of their trauma without becoming their punching bag?
Matthew told me after I was finished counseling that while I was traveling through my past, he would often think to himself, "This is one of those defining moments in our relationship. This is a moment when I choose what kind of husband I'll be. Will I be a support or a hindrance?"
Allowing ourselves to be the brunt end of a victim's hurts can make us a hindrance to their healing. But showing unwavering love can be the encouragement they need to keep going, little by little.
What I've decided for myself is that I won't give up on Matthew no matter how challenging our days are. I am able to try my best, even when I periodically slip up. I needed my husband to put me first each and every day and that's what I can give him. I can see each of his vulnerable moments as opportunities to be excellent for him.
I can choose to be compassionate. I can choose to be kind. I can choose to stay, listen, and comfort. I can choose to treat Matthew with the same level of respect and honor that he treated me.
I can keep at the forefront of my mind all the little moments that Matthew showed me extreme grace and love and then use this time to prove I love him just as deeply. I can show him that I don't need "perfect"
from him to be happy. I love him because he is in my life, the same way I would show love to my children, my siblings, my friends and anyone else who may depend on me.
I don't ever want to be a hindrance to him while he heals. I understand the value of having an exceptional support system and how we impact each other, so I'm going to continue giving my best. That means treating him now as I needed to be treated back then. Recognizing the hurt beneath the actions and words. Knowing there will be an end to his process as there was for mine. And using my firsthand experience to help another person.
It's not easy all the time. I didn't think it would be a breeze, but I did underestimate just how difficult it would be to be on this side of the process. I saw my husband handle me with such care that I just assumed I would be fine if ever I had to do this.
Silly naive girl.
It's so important we see all the players in traumatic circumstances, not just the victims. Because, wow, the supporting people have a hard job as well! The fact that I get to do this for my husband, someone I love dearly, makes it wonderful not burdensome. I can choose that perspective like I can choose my responses.
But it's still hard.