by: Avery Smith
Happy February. Growing up I always looked at February as the month of love. It was always pink and red and of course, Valentine’s Day. As a kid, remember getting those Valentines candy’s and giving them out to everyone in class, what a good time. We get older and, to me, I felt the need to be in love right away. Right before Valentine’s Day of 2012, my relationship started to turn. He made Valentine’s Day a day where we had to be together and no one else could be around us. I tried to make it a double date or to have a “Galentine's day,” but it wasn’t allowed. This caused me to have problems with trauma bonding down the road and it caused a lot of problems in future relationships.
Dating after leaving my ex was tough. I hated the idea of love, I hated the idea of being touched, I hated the idea that I had to do this whole thing over again, I just hated it all. I had a lot of dates after my ex and honestly, each relationship and date taught me a lot about myself. After I brought up my abuse in therapy, I had a lot of nightmares and I barely slept. This caused problems in my everyday life and with dating. I projected a lot of my problems onto guys I was interested in; I would lash out at the little things and I would instantly become codependent on my boyfriend. This caused a lot of relationships to end for me. My go-to defense mechanism is to get angry and believe that I was being attacked. There are still times in my current relationship where I get like that. It was and still is very hard to break this cycle of believing I am being attacked. I learned that I had to have my sense of myself.
Even though those heartbreaks I went through broke me, it brought me to where I am today; I completed my Bachelor’s degree, I feel in control of my life, I set healthy boundaries in relationships, I still see a therapist because it helps me evaluate situations, and my relationships, platonic and romantic, have improved. Again, I still have my setbacks, but when you surround yourself with people who love and care about you, it will make this process a lot easier.
Dating can be tough as it is, but now adding trauma to it, HOW DO WE DO IT? I’m here to help you whether you’re just starting your journey to healing or your heart is on your sleeve. When you feel you are ready to date again, that’s great! If you aren’t quite ready, that is also okay! If you go on a date with someone and realize you aren’t comfortable, that’s okay! Dating after abuse is a tough step and if you are at that step of knowing you want to be in a relationship again, that’s amazing. But, now what?
The best way to get back out there is to go on a practice date. It can be with a friend, sibling, or by yourself. Just get yourself back out there, but start easy. Know what to talk about and what boundaries to set. Practice these things with yourself. Know what you want to get out of the date. This may sound silly, but it helps build your confidence and know what you want. It helps you take back control.
Now, it’s time for a date. Someone asks you to dinner; you’re excited, but something feels uneasy. Is it butterflies because you are excited or is something off? It’s always going to feel weird going back into dating, but something to keep in mind is you can run from it or you can embrace it. Of course, you will have nerves going into it, but think of how exciting it is. Do whatever you need to make yourself feel comfortable. This new person you are going on a date with is a stranger, and being cautious is a good step.
If you feel uneasy, send your location to a friend. If you still feel uneasy, have your friends go to the restaurant with you! Not on the date, but maybe have them sit at the bar or across the room from you two. These are all ideas to keep you safe because, at the end of the day, your safety is the number one priority.
Have a back-out plan just in case. On a first date, have a plan to leave the date in case you get uncomfortable. Make a plan with a friend to call you after the date starts to make sure you are okay. Have a code word with a friend in case you need them to call you to get you out of there. These are to keep you feeling safe when you go out. You do not have to do all of them or if you have a new creative idea, go for it! You just have to feel comfortable and safe.
Dating after trauma can be tough. Everyone can find love and everyone deserves happiness. So, this Valentine’s Day, whether you spend it with a significant other or with your girls, if you're a survivor like me, we can be grateful. Grateful we are here, grateful for what we've overcome, and happy for our future because it’s shining bright. I will leave you with this;
“Trauma is a fact of life. It does not, however, have to be a life sentence.” - Peter Levine
When you are ready, go for it!