Unresolved Trauma Equaled the End of My Last Relationship
It took the woman I waited fifty-three years for and past trauma on both sides to end a good thing.
trauma[ trou-muh, traw- ]
an experience that produces psychological injury or pain.
From an early age I’ve endured trauma, though I didn’t look at it as trauma until within the last year. Before that I just looked at it as my life. My messed up, bullshit life.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to tell you some sad story about how I grew up in some crappy house in some horrible neighborhood raised by a mom after my dad went out for cigarettes when I was five and never came back. In fact, it’s just the opposite.
I was raised in a two-parent home where my parents were married forty-six years. My dad died when I was thirty-six and that was a bad year in my life. I lost my dad, who I was much closer with than my mom, my eleven-year marriage ended, and I gained full custody of a precious, energetic redheaded daughter with a ton of personality. Actually that last one was a good thing.
By all accounts my parents loved both my younger brother and myself, but it was far from pretty. At least for me. I was born and raised in a time before autism was diagnosed in children. In fact, I was out of high school almost fourteen years before they started diagnosing it in children and another few before they started diagnosing Asperger’s Syndrome (my particular form of autism) in people.
Talking to my mom about my earliest years for an autobiography I’m working on, I’ve come to learn that I had almost every classic symptom of what we now know is autism in children. I was diagnosed with ADHD in kindergarten and had a tough time both at school and at home.
I was repeatedly told that I wasn’t ever going to reach my full potential and I was both mocked and shunned by my classmates for being weird and different. These were the earliest signs of rejection in my life, something I never looked at as trauma. But with the help of an acquaintance (who is a wealth of knowledge on the subject of trauma and its aftermath) and my therapist, I learned that was a form of trauma and it was a form that was going untreated.
I’ve heard the bit about never reaching my full potential for years and in fact I still hear it. That’s just one part of the rejection. Starting in fifth grade, my teachers at Christian school started calling me, “weird,” “stupid,” and, “lazy” not only to my face but in front of my classmates as well. That was extremely traumatizing and not at all true. Remember that I was autistic, only no one knew what that was. I was trying my hardest and as my SAT and IQ tests would later show I was off the charts smart.
So, stupid, and lazy? No. Weird? Maybe.
In high school it was no better. I had no understanding of how the math teacher was teaching algebra I & II but I was getting the answers right by doing the work the way it logically made sense in my brain to do it. Even though I was getting the answers right I was showing the work wrong and as he passed out tests he made a great show of dropping the test on my desk and in a loud voice bellowing, “F…Again.”
It made me want to crawl under my desk and at the same time stand on top of it Dead Poets Society style (which hadn’t been released yet) and say, “Just because you can’t figure out how I got to the answers doesn’t make it wrong.” To this day I have an overwhelming fear of math and I’m taking courses for an AA degree in Behavioral Studies. In the Spring I have to take Contemporary Math and I’m already cringing at the thought of having to face it.
High school was hell for me as I felt as if I never fit in and was constantly feeling rejection from the other students, and many of the teachers. I was also feeling it at home from my parents for my inability to get my homework turned in, a very common ADHD trait.
I was reminded again and again that I wasn’t living up to my potential and at this rate, never would. It didn’t help that my high school was predominately Dutch and with a last name like Reed (definitely not Dutch) I just didn’t fit in.
My Christian school was also a college prep school and I remember not fitting in and getting mocked for my grades. I didn’t remember them being horrible, though I knew they weren’t straight A's. This past week I had to get a copy of my high school transcript for my junior college and when they sent it electronically to the school, I was also sent an unofficial electronic copy.
When I looked at it, I was reminded why I felt the rejection of my classmates. With a C+ average I was #104 out of 110 in my graduating class. Ouch.
The rejection continued through adulthood where I received a psychological discharge from the Navy after two years, the first really noticeable sign of my autism as all the reasons marked down on my discharge paperwork were as if they were from a textbook on autism. Still, no diagnosis.
Later, I had a job with a boss who called me Forrest Gump every day for over four years, and there are many, many more stories of rejection from women I dated, employers, family, friends and the list goes on.
Finally, at age forty-six, I was officially diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and a light shone on my whole life. Now I finally had some answers to all the weirdness, quirky behavior, math problems where the work was done right, just in a different way than was taught, and so on.
At age fifty-three I was introduced to “Her.” We became friends, before we started dating and we fell in love. We talked about how happy we were and life looked great.
And then one day it didn’t.
Take a neurotypical (someone without autism, or with a neurologically typical brain) and pair them with someone on the spectrum, give one of them trauma in their past and it can be a recipe for disaster.
Now take two people on the spectrum, each with traumatic pasts, put them in a relationship and I don’t care how much love there is between them, at some point the pot is going to boil over.
That’s exactly what happened with us.
She dealt with trauma as well. It’s not for me to discuss what kind or how much. Some of it I know about and some I was never made privy to. Like me, we both need work to be healthy and as much as she hurt me in a very big way, I hurt her too. I can only hope that she finds peace and a way to overcome her demons, just as I’m working towards the same goal.
If you’re living with unresolved trauma of any kind, I implore you to seek help. Trauma work isn’t a quick fix. It can be a long-term project. Only by talking with a professional and working on repairing the damage it’s caused, will you be able to move forward with your life.