How Betrayal Trauma Feels To Me
Today we have a woman in recovery for betrayal trauma talking about what betrayal trauma feels like to her. She also shares some tools she uses when the trauma is triggered.
What Does Betrayal Trauma Look Like?
Guest: Today I kind of wanted to talk about what betrayal feels like for me. I had never heard about betrayal trauma before. When I first found my husband's addiction three years ago I obviously went deep into betrayal trauma, but I didn't have a word for it. For me it just felt like anger, first of all, a lot of intense anger. I had never been a “swearer” before but when I am in trauma mode I turn into a sailor and swear a lot.
A lot of anger, a lot of guilt--that’s what it felt like for me. When I first came across this feeling after my D-Day I tried to cope with the situation by freezing. I just froze. I did nothing. Many women find out how to check cookies or focus on why their husband is always angry and irritable. I pretended that everything was hunky-dory, completely ignoring the fact that my husband betrayed me. I lived in freeze mode for a good two years.
During that time I had another baby, and along with that I had some anxiety attacks that I really think were worse because of the trauma I was in. With my other kids I had never experienced anxiety attacks. I always got postpartum depression, but I’d never had those anxiety attacks and so I went on medication for those, and then just a bunch of different mental health problems. I feel now that I’m in good recovery I can look back and say I think that part of my mental health was due to the trauma that I was not dealing with, and did not know how to deal with at the time.
So I experienced anxiety, depression, headaches, and insomnia. When I'm in trauma mode I cannot sleep at all. It is so hard for me to fall asleep. And my brain just thinks and thinks and thinks and thinks and it’s really hard for me to shut it off. I can remember the first time I really heard about betrayal trauma it was when I first started attending the SA Lifeline Groups. And I remember they were using all these words like boundaries, triggers and betrayal trauma and I thought, “what is this foreign language? I don’t know what they are talking about!”
But as I learned more about it, I realized I needed help, that all this anger and the guilt and the anxiety wasn’t me just going crazy, because that’s really what I thought. And I think when I’m in trauma a lot of times I get in that mindset of ‘oh my gosh, I’m crazy. I am a psycho person and no one else is crazy like this!’
But the more I learned about betrayal trauma the more I realized that I’m not alone in these symptoms and these feelings and that there is a way to get help--which is awesome! And it actually reminds me of in the SAL script that we read, each time. Near the beginning it says “Without spiritual help, living with, or having lived with, a sex addict is too much for most of us. We become nervous, irritable, and unreasonable; our thinking becomes confused, and our perspective distorted.” And that just kind of describes how I feel when I’m in trauma mode. Just irritable, unreasonable, confused, with a distorted perspective. And I love that we get to read that weekly in our meetings to kind of remind us how that feels, and then we can go on and talk about how we can overcome that.
Using 12 Steps To Help With Betrayal Trauma
Now that I have been in recovery, I’ve been in good recovery for about 10 months now actually. It kind of changes the betrayal trauma. I mean I definitely still get in that trauma mode, but now I find more often than not I’m able to recognize it more quickly. I used to go weeks without realizing I was in trauma mode.
The more into recovery I go the more able I am to recognize sooner that I am in trauma mode and then I’m able to kind of track back the days or the hours and pinpoint what the trigger was that started that. And as I go back through it I am able to see the steps I need to take whether it’s a surrender, whether it’s a boundary I haven’t been holding, so that I can get out of that trauma mode. I really think that one of the most healthy coping mechanisms that I have learned from SA Lifeline is surrendering. Before I started coming to SA Lifeline I didn’t know much about surrendering. I had read Rhyll Croshaw’s book “What Can I Do About Me” and she talked about surrendering and I really liked it, but until I went to the group and was able to talk to women about how they surrender and those steps that you take I didn’t really understand it.
But the more that I have used that process that I’m able to write down those things that have triggered me or have set off trauma mode and I can surrender them to my Higher Power and to my sponsor or other support person and put them in my surrender box or burn them, as the case may be, however I’m feeling, then that is one of the healthiest coping mechanisms I have found for getting out of that trauma mode and not going back into that freeze.
Because that is my go to coping mechanism--I just go back to freeze mode where I bottle up my emotions, especially negative ones, and I stop being open and vulnerable and just start in that cycle of anger and fear and anxiety that is my trauma mode.
Betrayal Trauma Is Like PTSD
The thing that surprised me about betrayal trauma is how close it is to post traumatic stress disorder. I actually watched a class by Dr. Andrew Skinner specifically on this topic, on Bloom for Women, and he discussed that people who have been betrayed by someone close to them, like a spouse, actually have almost all the symptoms of someone who has been in combat and has post traumatic stress disorder.
And he talked a lot about how when you are in that trauma mode you either go into fight or flight or freeze mode. That’s why you get the emotions that you do, like the anger and the anxiety attacks for me where my heart beats faster and it’s like my body is preparing me for battle or to run away, or to play dead, I don’t know.
Learning about that, and connecting those ideas, was really amazing to me that it really is something that not only affects us mentally, but affects us physically as well. It affects me physically so that was another good resource that I found on recovering from betrayal trauma and learning about it. But honestly I think that the number one thing for me is still just attending the group meetings. This last week I was in trauma mode again for a bit.
I started off a day and I was just feeling that anger, that uncontrollable need to punch something, and I recognized that for what it was and I thought, ok, I’m starting into trauma mode, what has happened? And I was able to backtrack my day and realize that I had had an interaction with my sister and it had made me come to the realization that maybe the relationship I had with her was not as healthy as I thought and it had kind of spun me into this trauma mode where what I really needed to do was surrender that and kind of grieve the relationship
I thought I had had with her so that I could surrender that and kind of move on. Set some boundaries in that relationship so that I won’t be spiraling back into trauma mode. So really going to group is what keyed me into that situation and I think I honestly can say that if I did not attend weekly SA Lifeline meetings I would be in trauma mode a lot. It really is going to those meetings, reading through the scripts, doing my step work that helps me be able to live in a healthy way and stay out of trauma mode, and I am so grateful for that!