The book series I'm currently reading features a main character who tries to maintain a relationship with this woman who is heavily traumatized due to a horrific event when she was just a girl. Much of the story revolves around this main character trying to peel away the countless layers of scarring, misdirection, lies, aggression and everything else in an attempt to understand what daemons haunt her. For me this story definitely hits a lot of sensitive spots, as I can relate to many things in it from my own recent past.
The notion of wanting to help someone is a noble, but foolish one. Doubly so in a relationship, whether it's a voluntary one or not. A few years ago I got manipulated into entering a relationship with this one girl. All I can say is that at that time I was feeling incredibly alone and deserted by virtually everyone. To me it felt like some kind of validation of me as a person that I could actually get into a relationship. In hindsight an utterly idiotic notion, of course. This quickly became clear to me over the following months.
Sure, I wasn't completely unaware that this girl was... somewhat unstable. Part of me wanted to see something better in her, though. Maybe the beautiful person I could see through that murky, ugly layer really was there. Maybe not. As my every attempt to help and change her failed it soon became obvious that she was simply manipulating me, both emotionally and physically. I always had to be there to protect her, or she'd throw a tantrum. She'd try to bribe me with more sex some mornings just so that I wouldn't go to work. That was a big thing to her: the physical part. I honestly do not know what parts of her past as she told it to me were true, but I'm quite certain that sex was a big part of it, whether in the form of abuse or worse I cannot tell.
Most of those eight hellish months consisted just out of me spending a few hours at work, trying to not fall asleep, to then rush 'home' and deal with both the verbal and emotional abuse, as well as the constant demands for physical pleasure. Sleep wasn't really an option. Being woken up at night to have sex may sound like a pleasant thing, but by the time it's a regular thing and you're sorely sleep-deprived as a result, it stops being fun and gets you all the enjoyment of being trapped and tortured by a succubus. One of the worst things was the realization that I didn't love or even like this person I had entered a relationship with. I had thought I could help her become a better person - her true self - but in the end I got dragged down into the hell of what probably were her own traumas.
In retrospect, things coming to a painful crescendo at the end of those eight months and me losing all of the possessions I had left behind at the apartment as I fled from it was almost worth it just to be freed from that hell. I'm glad that my mother recognized the dire straits I was in and staged a rescue mission that night to get me to safety. The next months I spent recovering from my ordeal and trying to make sense of it all. What was clear to me was that my noble intentions had turned me into a complete fool and had gotten me nothing but loss and pain as a result.
It doesn't always have to be so traumatic, however. More recently I spent some time with this other girl, who also had her own daemons to fight with. Main difference was that she was a normal, well-adjusted person, just with some traumas sometimes poking through. About as crazy as I am myself, probably. Another big difference is that despite us parting ways in the end, it wasn't because we didn't care about each other any more, but at least from my side in the recognition that spending time together while we both struggled through our own respective traumas would not be beneficial, that we would not be helping each other that way.
The thing with traumas in a relationship is that you get the problem that you are expected to open yourself up fully to that person, which also means that if the other person is traumatized and does things which ultimately result in self-harm or which are otherwise negative, it hits you pretty hard. When you are self then also traumatized, it can be simply too much to bear. For me one of the things which is an absolute rule to me and which has kept me going for more than a decade now is to never, ever harm this body of mine. No matter how much I may hate, loathe and wish to rip this horrific body of myself apart, or wish to drown my sorrows in whatever harmful substances I can get my hands on, I will never allow myself to get past that one limit.
To me this limit, this rule is one of the few things which keep me stable and sane. It's a point of stability, which I can always focus on. Without such an emotional anchor point I'm not sure where I would be now. Probably dead for quite a few years, no doubt. This rule allows me to still feel bad about hurting myself and to desire and demand a proper outcome for this intersex curse which plagues my body. It is an expression of the absolute desire to protect this body and with it myself. Itself probably an expression of both rational thought and survival instinct. All of it is probably as close to the core of my being as one can get.
In that regard, then being in a relationship where the other, also traumatized person, does things which harm one's own body is simply too much. It's akin to one's partner cheating on you with someone else, only worse, as this hits at the very core of your convictions. It feels as if you yourself just violated that one absolute rule. Yet that then doesn't make it any easier to split ways. While I'd gladly erase any memories of the first girl I described, this more recent experience is one which still lingers a lot in my thoughts. It's very bitter-sweet, tinged with disappointment and regret. Part of you keeps insisting that it could have been made to work out, even as you know that you made the right choice. Another part of you just wants to hug this person, to forget about all the bad things.
The most painful lesson I have learned over the past years is that you cannot help the other person in a relationship, or for that matter a friend. They always have to learn how to help themselves. Others can support them in this, but there is only one person who can help oneself.