Not everyone understands you. You've been through a lot and some of it, you've gone through alone, so you know how hard that is. Some of it, however, you've gone through with someone else and they are the only other person on earth who knows what it's like to have survived the war. I have a friend like that. I tell him all the time, it's as if he and I went away to this war, and at the end it, we were the only two survivors. Then, when we figuratively came back to our hometown, we were changed, and only the both of us know why. So, we stick closely together. We love each other differently than we love others and we are bound by our pain, constantly licking each other's wounds, and soothing each other awake from our night terrors. We understand each other's triggers, stepping over those landmines, being careful not to blow each other apart.
This is a very special circumstance and one I have been forced to acknowledge and investigate as I find myself in a period of intensive self healing. A lot of us have this sort of relationship somewhere in our lives and, sometimes, it can be unhealthy. Other times, it allows for the growth and support we need to let pain leave the body and move forward. But it can be difficult to discern whether holding fast to your old war buddy is a help or a hindrance, support or a crutch.
What to Look For in Your Survivor Relationship:
- No Transference of Pain: Pain is a communicable disease, able to be passed around, back and forth between partners. Your war buddy is your partner and, during times of stress and triggers, he or she is most likely the closest person to you. In my Survivor Relationship, we do monthly check-ins to be sure we are not transferring our pain to one another. We check-in with each other to see how we feel about how we're being treated in the relationship, what can be improved, and what's already perfect. It is important that we do not take our pain out on one another. It is important that we support one another through hard times without dumping more stress and anxiety on each other.
- A Safe Place: Just as in any war, the only way to survive is to hunker down in a safe place, to dig a trench and lay in it, waiting for the bombs to stop. Well, even when the war is over, survivors need a safe place to recover from all the traumas of war. In my Survivor Relationship, we have created what we call The Bubble. It is a safe place we have cultivated and care for continually. In this place, we listen to music, watch movies, split a six-pack, hold on to each other, and just be. In those moments, no one knows where we are or what we're doing and that's just the way we planned it. Inside The Bubble, we have pledged honesty, kindness, and care. We share our hopes and dreams, our goals and plans for the future. Here, we can cry and be vulnerable, knowing we will not be taken advantage of. We laugh a lot in The Bubble. We cook, we create, we love and we love hard.
- Forgiveness: One of the most important things one survivor should know and remember about another, is that they are just as hurt as you are. And what I have always known is that hurt people hurt people, and the first person to get hurt will always be the closest to the explosive. The thing about a Survivor Relationship is that it is built on pain and imperfection just as much as it is built on the desire to heal and find our own perfect brand of joy. Two wounded souls have come together seeking solace and security, comfort and camaraderie, but each of those souls is fragile. In my Survivor Relationship, there has been hurt and this is where my discernment must heighten. As pain leaves the body, we are sure to hurt the person closest to us. But is it a deliberate hurt, or a natural hurt? Is this person intentionally setting out to harm me, or are they releasing pain in naturally hurtful ways? Is this person screaming into the ether, or is he screaming at me? Is he harming himself or is he harming me? There is a difference, though I am hurt by both. Still, in The Bubble, there is forgiveness. Releasing myself from the anger hurt causes, also releases my war buddy from the guilt and anxiety of hurting me. Some motions are just pain leaving the body. They are bad habits that must be unlearn and everyone is allowed to make a mistake. There can be the release of pain, but no transference. He can scream into the ether but he cannot scream at me. I am still pained by his pain because we are partners and I feel as he feels, but I know not to take his release personally. We are both home from the war. We are both wounded. We are both afraid and we have seen too much. In The Bubble, we forgive the release of pain, the unintentional flailing during night terrors, because we know what it's like to be affected and we only aim to heal.
Moving Forward Into Joy:
A healthy Survivor Relationship will support you through your pain without transferring more pain onto you, give you a safe place to grieve and grow, while forgiving those growing pains, the leaving of that pain, and the emotional convulsions it may cause. Within the relationship, and over time, you should begin to see and feel joy. Your war buddy should make you happy and he or she should only add to the betterment of your life, so that you begin to find joy in other things and other relationships.
You two should not recycle your pain, hanging onto it out of fear of moving forward. You should propel each other into forward motion and encourage one another to move toward a better quality of life. The war is over and it's time to find our places in the world, again. Do not abandon your war buddy. Never forget what you have gone through and gotten over together. This camaraderie deserves respect and it deserves time. Be sure to give it lots of both.
New York Times best selling author, keynote speaker and workshop leader, founder of The Gorgeous Girl's Guide, Steffans Publishing Enterprises, and Karrine & Co.