The Vat of Acid

When you experience trauma, it is as though a phantom placed a large vat of acid in your arms while you were not looking. Noticing the sensations of its weight and heft, you look in front of you to see this bubbling, putrid vat in your arms. The person or situation who placed it there, without you asking for it, has moved on. You are now left to make sense of what the hell just happened to you. Most of our minds begin with the woulda, coulda, shoulda brigade. If only I woulda paid attention (not drank alcohol, not trusted him, made my parent happier, etc.) I coulda avoided this horrible thing (the core, appropriate desire to avoid pain); I shoulda done better. And it’s that last one that often begins the train of getting stuck. I shoulda done better. I shoulda been better. I should be better. I am not good.

When the phantom left behind the vat of acid, you are left trying to figure out what to do with it. Many trauma survivors, and often those with long-term trauma-related complications, throw a cape over the vat and learn to live with it. They learn to walk in just the right way so that it won’t slosh around and burn them everyday. They learn to hold the cape in place, so that no one else can see the horrid thing. After years and years of this, the vat becomes so familiar, it is as though it is the survivor, like a tree grown around a chain link fence. It becomes the awful part of oneself that prevents connecting with others - the thought pattern of “once others know this, they won’t want to know me.” This leads some to keep others at arm's length, only letting them in so far. For some, this means moving away from any form of intimacy; for others, they may entertain closeness to a point, even settling down with a partner, but never really knowing or being known in the way they desire. Some survivors unconsciously test others along the road of intimacy - “I will give them bits of the acid and perhaps if they see me at my worst and stay, that means they will love me when they really know.” Many relationships are ruined along the way and the ones that stick are marked with drama and hurt that impedes real intimacy. And it never makes the vat of acid go away.

The truth is, and it’s a hard one to thoroughly know and live, that vat was never you. In fact, it’s not even yours, it never was. Through a patient, evidence-based and trauma-informed therapy process, we can work to help you separate yourself from the vat of acid: to move towards a life of meaning, even with a past of hurt.

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