How Visiting Past Trauma Helped Me Let Go

"In facing them, I took back the pieces I left behind"

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This story was originally published on The Mighty.

When I scheduled a quick getaway weekend in DC, sandwiching it between business trips, I did not know what to expect. I only knew that my attempts to reclaim my past were not complete. I had been back to my hometown twice before, and each time I allowed obligation to divert me from my real purpose. This time, I decided I was not going to do that. That come hell, high-water or offended relatives and friends, I was going to do the thing I both knew I needed to do and dreaded doing. I was going to go back to the places where I had been abused.

I began on a Friday, meeting with the people who played a role in the events that happened to me. At each meeting, we confronted the past. We navigated awkward conversations, we addressed hurt feelings, betrayal and anger. We laughed, we hugged, and we cried.

The two most powerful meetings I had were with a man I’ll call Tom who tried to talk me out of dating my abuser, only to have me cut him off completely. The other was the friend I’ll call Jill who chose to exit my life instead of telling me she suspected what was going on. I saw them both on the same day within hours of each other.

With each person, I wanted them to know one thing… they were right. With Tom, I needed him to know he had been right to try and talk me out of it, and I also needed him to understand exactly why he was never going to be able to do so. Trauma bonding is a powerful thing and by the time he tried, I was deeply and inextricably bonded to my abuser.

With Jill, I needed her to know that she too did the right thing. My abuser has harassed and disrupted the lives of every person who helped me rebuild after I fled him. She had her own family to think of.

In between those meetings, I visited all the places I used to live with him. I stood in front of each and wept as the tapes played in my head. As I stood watching the memories play out in my head, I reclaimed each bit of my identity, each bit of my self-respect, each bit of my soul I had left behind.

As I left each place, I expected to still feel a visceral connection to them. Instead, for the first time in years, I felt untethered. As I drove away from the last place we lived in my hometown, Gotye’s song, “Someone I used to know” began to play. I realized why I no longer felt any connection to places that had once been rife with meaning. They were no longer “mine”; they no longer had a connection to me. In facing them, I took back the pieces I left behind. Instead, they were just some places that I used to know.

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