Trauma Recovery and Harm Reduction in Relationships

While things are funky on the professional front, they are going well on the truth and reconciliation front with the open adoption. Steps were recently taken by both parties to open communication after a year and a half of walls between us.

There are still super hard bits coming, like listening to the hurt we caused one another and accepting responsibility for the harm done, whether it was by mean words or the silence of avoidance. But I can feel how that step, when it comes, will have a foundation of trust and love for ourselves, each other, and our shared son, rather than being filtered through our pain and trauma stories as it was before, and that makes all the difference in the world. I know we will all be safe in a room together because we are each doing the work to make ourselves safe to be with.

Due to our experience and the way we have chosen to restore relationship, I now understand how important it is to couple trauma recovery with harm reduction in interpersonal relationships, because we often cause the most harm to ourselves and those we love when we are acting out of our trauma. In our situation, we were all traumatized by violence as children and beyond and we learned violent ways of reacting, whether by violating ourselves or others. In the program, violence is the opposite of intimacy. Any behavior or action can either bring us closer to or separate us from ourselves and/or each other. Trauma behaviors, which we use in an attempt to protect ourselves, usually bring separation rather than intimacy.

I used to believe I was a nonviolent person, until this process unraveled all the ways I violate myself and violate others through avoidance, withdrawal, and neglect of the relationship. In my pregnancy trauma and birth mother grief, I separated from people who loved me rather than nurturing intimacy. I occasionally participated in more obvious acts of verbal violence toward others through unkind criticism and bullying when “triggered” (I put this in quotes because the program says trigger is a word that implies something external causes the internal upset, when the reality is that our trauma gets set off because we have internal healing to do). However, I mostly turn my violence on myself through behaviors like isolating from the relationships that support me, perfectionism, harsh criticism for mistakes, brain loops that cause anxiety, neglecting my health, bingeing on food and alcohol that later makes me feel physically bad, avoiding rather than facing what needs to be done, failing to do the things that bring me joy (like being creative or reading books instead of vegging on tv), etc.

I began the program by making agreements that I am violent and I am willing to stop my violence. That’s not an easy thing to do, but I think the world of humans would be much different if more of us were willing to face the truth of our own violent behaviors, whether they are internally or externally focused. I used to think that only some of us grew up in homes where violence was the primary language of relationship, but now I see how we are immersed in a culture of violence. Not just physical and sexual, but emotional and verbal. We put a bully in the White House and that says everything to me about how much we have normalized all forms of violence. As does the relationships I see on television and in movies.

We are also deeply afraid of intimacy in our culture. How many of us are starved for touch because we don’t show affection we feel beyond our romantic partners? How many of us avoid telling each other the truth, whether it’s how much we like each other or how our feelings are hurt? How many of us avoid sharing the vulnerable parts of ourselves out of shame and the belief that we will be othered if we are real about who we are?

As I learn about stewarding communities, I can see that this work of harm reduction and intimacy nurturance is necessary in all kinds of relationships. I believe this sort of work – whether it’s this program or offered in other ways – is vital to humans being able to connect while navigating oppression and all the ways we violate each other and the system violates us. It’s vital to our trauma work as individuals and collectives, so that we no longer violate from our pain and our fear, and instead connect through deepening intimacy.

1 Comment

  1. April, I am sorry to hear from the rift in your relationship but was amazed at the way you are healing and the path it is leading you two follow. I want to go back now and read more about you and this kind of healing. Thank you for sharing.

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