The reality of recovery from assault at work
Many people look at me and consider me very strong. I wish that was something that brought me any peace. If anything, it continually seems to work against me.
It means that I’m never considered vulnerable.
It means that sympathy & empathy are often not graces I am extended.
It means that people think they can treat me badly, because I’ll be okay anyway, right?
I’ve found myself genuinely questioning if I can ever feel safe at work again.
I have to say, I did think it was possible, but my latest few experiences have shown me that if it ever is, it’s not without also having to accept that it still may not be too.
And, I guess, because I have been successful. Because I have achieved many things, even at a young age, even if I express that I have CPTSD, FND, Generalised anxiety…Even if I open up about my vulnerabilities, they are not looked at as open wounds. There’s an assumption that, because I’m still standing, because I’m still functioning, that I must have healed from them.
You know, I must be some sort of superhuman.
The truth is, I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to work in a traditional way again.
I will try, but I’m also unsure if I will ever be able to withstand how fraught with abuse and damaging behaviour the workplace can be steeped in.
And, I guess, the idea that the workplace construct is removed from the usual risks of just existing in society, was a naive assumption on my part in any case.
And that’s because, for me, work was a refuge.
Even while I dealt with awful racism, sexism and the like, work was still one of my most successful coping mechanisms.
It not only provided an escape – it also provided an opportunity for me to prove to myself that I didn’t have to be a victim. That I could be in control of my own destiny. It was a reclamation of power, albeit within a societal hierarchy primed to work against me, but one nevertheless that enabled me to validate my worth through a sense of achievement.
It was also a way for me to remedy a lot of my pain with money. I mean, fine, I couldnt go back and save young me from abuse, but the me now could certainly make money and use that to free myself of being trapped in by the visceral flashbacks, by working so hard I distracted myself from even having the energy to entertain them at all.
I guess my first sign that this was all catching up with me, was when my engagement fell apart. I found myself alone. And it was in this solitude that I realised that I hadn’t dealt with my trauma at all. More importantly though, in truth, that I didn’t even want to.
I actively sought escapes.
Sometimes it was drinking myself to a stupor, making me ripe for suicide attempts. Oh and did I attempt lol.
Sometimes it was self harm. From the small, peeling away at my skin, to the big, acting dangerously and recklessly with no regard for my life at all.
Sometimes it was romantic / sexual. Engaging in any connection at all, which made me feel seen. Made me feel like I was worth staying alive, because somebody else wanted me to be, regardless of the nature of their treatment towards me.
I guess all those are obvious. Very CPTSD. Very high-functioning manic depressive, as they say.
My personal fav though, which I still think I can’t quite shake, was being able to work.
So, as I’ve written a fair amount about now, this is where the damage of mutism, paralysis and the impact on my mental acuity / neurology has really hit me hard.
It’s made me feel a unique form of pain…feeling continuously unsure.
And this is what toxic people in a workplace take advantage of.
Like sharks to blood, they can sense when somebody feels unsure. For them, all that matters is how to take advantage of that and they only see that unsureness through the realm of work.
They don’t know, nor care, about how innate and ever present that feeling is. How it spans every facet of your life, like ink spreads through cloth.
It makes you feel like a dirty rag. All the time. Like nothing can wash it out, no matter how hard you try.
This devastating impact on my confidence is what I think I may never get over, because even in ways I thought I was confident, I now find that I am constantly second guessing myself.
I’m so incredibly vulnerable to being gaslit, that any comment thrown my way MUST be analysed. I am thrown, every single time, into a tailspin.
Maybe I am that way now?
Maybe they’re right? – I mean, by mental health has been severely impacted.
Maybe it is my fault – I mean, I should have realised that abuse before, but I didn’t.
Maybe I’ll never be the same again. Which of course, the sad thing about this, is that this one is very true. I won’t be.
I can no longer trust my instinct.
Because, for better or worse, it’s my instinct that I blame for not being able to teach me how to avoid abusers.
This of course is entirely irrational, your instinct doesn’t teach you, it simply warns you and tries to draw off your fight or flight response.
However, when trauma has disrupted this emotional regulation, it means that your fight or flight response kicks in, in a way that’s often outside of your control.
Therapy and mindfulness and all the things – they help.
Vedic meditation, it helps.
Good friendship, it helps.
Medication, it helps.
But, it can never truly teach your body that it doesn’t have to always be on the watch out for danger, because your body keeps the score.
All these positive tools we are equipped with, help, but they can’t ever stop me from remembering.
They can’t teach me how to trust again.
And tbh, I’m accepting that my body probably knows best anyway, I’m not sure that recovery for a Black queer trans person even looks like not being fearful – if anything, it looks like just having great understanding of why you are reacting the way you are.
If you ask me, that’s not much consolation.
It also takes time.
And in the time I learnt more about myself and why my body behaves the way it does, I’ve also still had to inhabit that same body.
And all the actions that come with it, which I can never redo again.
So, assault at work, well, recovery from that for a high-functioning person / somebody who finds solace in being able to work, looks like finding a way to navigate an environment that requires you to not be impacted by your past at all.
And that shit is rough.
Even in the places that deem itself progressive or amongst people who consider themselves progressive, when faced with actually supporting somebody like me, the response is often one of frustration. Not care.
And, as somebody who has been open about my struggles, I have to say that the pain of that being entirely dismissed is worse than if I never opened up at all.
It sits in your spirit like a dead weight.
It’s fundamentally changed my character.
I no longer have the patience for casual offhandish remarks.
For empty shallow pleasantries, fronted by gestures of care.
For trivial conversation.
For dismissiveness or recklessness.
I can’t possibly have the space for it, because unlike the “strong” person I thought I was, I am now so ever aware of how vulnerable I am and as much as I try to put on a brave face – I know how close to the darkness I always am.
I live with suicide ideation every waking moment of my existence.
The idea of continuing to be alive while carrying so much pain and hopelessness isn’t attractive at all.
So, the redeeming quality of life, is at the very least, trying to live it amongst people who truly care. Who won’t hurt me, simply because they can’t control themselves from lashing out.
To, I don’t know, actually believe that it’s possible to be loved as I am. Wholly. Not only if I’m always perfect. Not only because of how “strong” I may appear to be. But also, not from a place of pity either.
And all this takes work.
It takes work I never asked for.
It takes work that is deeply unfair, in that the burden rests with me to heal, not my abuser.
It means letting go of a version of myself that I will never get back.
It means looking forward, and moving forward, while carrying all that resulted in me being here today.
It’s very very veryyyyy tough.
And it takes strength, yes, but not strength that I want.
I’d LOVE to be able to take some time off.
To entirely disassociate.
To disappear, if honest.
But you know, that’s all very dark.
But I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t just wish for it to all come to a stop.
It means that I veer from super hopeful to desperately hopeless and that can happen within just a few minutes.
It means believing beyond my reality.
When I can’t speak / I can’t move.
I have to believe that I will again.
And I don’t know, maybe recovery looks like practicing self-belief.
Maybe recovery looks like believing myself into healing.
But that belief, it’s limited by the parameters of reality.
So then, somehow, I need to find a way to bend reality to my favour.
That’s also a humongous strain on my state of mind.
I can understand why trauma can lead to personality disorders or psychosis.
It’s a miracle that I haven’t lost my mind yet, considering how often I imagine me doing so or how often I feel extremely depersonalised.
So, after another deep betrayal and disappointment at a workplace. And one where I thought I’d actually be safe – it’s taking me to look inwards again and find a way to cope that draws off of believing beyond my reality.
It’s taking me to imagine my way out of my pain.
I’m having to spend time meditating on a version of myself that isn’t deeply sad. That doesn’t feel hopeless. That doesn’t feel afraid.
Finding that spark to ignite me in a way that propels me forward, instead of burning my soul and imploding.
For anybody who has dealt with severe abuse at work.
This is for you.
It’s so you know you’re not alone.
I know our journeys are very lonely.
Our journeys are almost too heavy to carry.
But, I’m hoping that for as long as I have the motivation to stay alive, that in just staying alive day after day – I move to a place of more understanding, more recovery, more belief and more hope.
And hopefully, through this chaos, some form of healing emerges that is sustainable.
And as much as I think I will always mourn the me who could have been; I also hope the me that is, finds a way to put that alternative version of me to rest peacefully.
Because, that little girl, she does deserve to know that yes, in recovery, she can be vindicated.
And I hope, that the person I am today, can provide that vindication to her at the very least.
Because no, I probably will never be able to get the justice she deserves.
I do however, still, by hook or crook, have the ability to choose something different.
Something that is mine.