Trust is an issue everyone struggles with in one way or another, no matter who they are or where they are from. It happens to us all from time to time when we are faced with a tricky situation. I’m talking about the trust between people. To rely on someone, depend on them in a situation, or keep the truth about something important. Trust is something that is earned over time.  As survivors of abuse, this is one of the biggest issues we are faced with as we launch into life without trauma.

Who can you trust after a childhood of trauma and deep hurt? If, as a child, you have never known anything but trauma, trust is the opposite of your entire world. The communication network is non-existent around you as often all adults you have encountered are self-absorbed in their own agendas. Your needs and wants have never been considered. Your trust in adults was broken in the most fundamental and brutal way. You know what I mean because as survivors we carry those scars deeply embedded within our bodies and our minds.

Step 1 – Trust yourself

A survivor who has been able to break away from their abusers has already taken a huge leap forward. They have trusted in their own instinct to get away and start again. It takes a lot to go against everything you know and break away into a new world. The first step is to trust that your life can and will get better. Most kids leave home when they are ready to as they reach a certain age and have finished their education. They are ready to take on the world knowing they have a job and somewhere to live with their loving parents as a backup. It is fail-safe. For an individual who has suffered from abuse in whatever form that might be, to leave is simply not as easy. An abusive parent is often still abusing their grown-up child long after they leave home. The abuse itself changes to threats, and withdrawal of money, and support, but it is still abuse. It is done with the intent to make another human being suffer. It can go on and on and be a constant thread during the holidays and special occasions. What I am interested in exploring in this blog is how a survivor learns to trust after a life filled without it. It doesn’t matter if their abusers are still in their life or not.

Step 2 – Trust your surroundings

You leave “that house” firmly behind you. With each step, your breath feels lighter as if the pressure around your body is becoming less. You are doing this! You are leaving! Your focus changes to your surroundings as you become aware that you are entering unchartered territory. In my case, it was the airport. It got me as I plunged into ice water. My entire body prickled with constant inputs of danger. There were so many people running or rushing past me burdened with heavy suitcases. The PA system blares out constant announcements of flight boarding or last calls. I started panicking. My body wanted to curl up in a corner. I didn’t belong here! I want to go home! I turned back sharply ending up in the arms of the biggest man I had ever seen towering all around me as he caught me. I pushed my hands over my head to cover myself for the blow I was certain to come… It never did. Instead, kind blue eyes stared down at me telling me it was an accident and was I ok? What? Was I okay? He asked me again and offered to help me find my way. I will never forget that moment. The kindness of a stranger. I even remember the way he smelled. Pine. It was a different scent than I had smelled before.

The plane journey was equally terrifying. I love being free and in the great outdoors. The plane was a Boeing 747, like a huge wide bus with wings and it was going to carry me to freedom. I had never been on an airplane before. I didn’t trust how the plane was going to carry all of the passengers and fly. There wasn’t an empty seat. I found my seat near the window. With my petite frame, I had ample room in my seat until a huge, bearded man in a business suit took the middle seat, his large frame spilling into mine. I looked out of my window trying not to hyperventilate or show any sign of panic. The fact was, I was panicking! I was shaking uncontrollably, and tears ran persistently down my cheeks. I did not trust the airplane would take off and I was convinced I was about to die. I was stuffed into a seat next to a huge gorilla of a man and I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs. I stared out of the window trying to focus on breathing. The man must have noticed me because he started talking to me in reassuring tones. His voice was a deep baritone but there was no anger in it at all. He was trying to comfort me and got me a glass of water from the flight attendants. He kept on talking to me but I couldn’t turn my face to look at him. The fact that he was nice to me made me cry even more. Then suddenly I felt a massive lift under the floor. The plane was airborne! The man laughed “See, just like riding a bus, except in the clouds”. I let out a huge snort of relief and my nose decided to erupt messily at that moment in a very non-ladylike way. I had done it! I laughed and cried at the same time. Something deep shifted within me at that moment. I felt a peace that I had never felt before. I was free! The plane felt like a prison and the people who were with me were my new safety. I was safe!

Once I got to my tiny studio apartment, I locked and bolted the front door and sank onto the floor still holding my suitcase. I closed my eyes and just sobbed. It was relief washing over me and I don’t know how long I sat there but it was getting dark when I looked up. I took in my new surroundings. There were no cameras watching me. It was just one small room with a small kitchen counter in one corner and a door leading to what I assumed must be a bathroom. It was clean and mine for as long as I paid the rent.  I was settled in a new safe environment, and no one knew where I was. Reality started to kick in as my senses went into overdrive. I heard people in the apartments near me but my space was clear. I was alone and I was safe.

Step 3 – Trust someone new

Once settled, how do you carry on without knowing whom to trust and where to go? There is no answer to this question as a survivor simply must try and fail and keep trying. You have to trust that things will work out and go for it.  I knew I found tall men particularly hard to trust, especially ones with big shaggy beards and poor hygiene. I knew not all men were bad, but I was cautious near all men for a very long time after I left my abusers. I didn’t trust anyone! How could I? All my life had been filled with neglect and trauma. I didn’t know how. When I got my first job as a dishwasher and cleaner, my boss was male but for some reason, he didn’t scare me as his physique was different from my abusers. He was short for a man and had a squeaky voice. He was not threatening at all and just wanted the work done each shift.

I learned quickly to trust my own instincts about people.  Most people shocked me with their egotistical ways, always talking about what they wanted. I never once heard any empathy for others and to me it made me wonder more about it. Why don’t people care more about others? To put their trust in others to do the job without having to be checked. I learned a lot by just being in the moment. Watching others and learning from how they were with each other. Most of the time, I learned what I did not want to be like. I didn’t trust anyone at that point.

I made sure my apartment was firmly locked and bolted when I got home each night and sank onto the floor and sobbed with relief. I had survived another day. Living was exhausting! I was on full alert all day, always watching people around me and listening out for any dangers. I had constant nightmares every night. Living without trust is scary and lonely. I was a stranger in a new city. A young girl living alone without visitors. I had no family and no friends and work was full of people who I wouldn’t have chosen to be around if I had known better. At the time, I went with the thought that I had to start somewhere and if I kept at it, things would get better. I let down my guard a bit with a woman I worked with. She had kind eyes and she helped me with the job. I copied her actions and found they were quicker than my efforts.

Step 3 – Trust people you don’t know

As time went and my new life settled into a routine, I started to relax. People started to notice the new blonde girl. I got a smile from a neighbor and the cashier in the food market recognized me. I even got recognized in the park by a dog walker. The people I worked with were okay. Nobody was interested in me or wanted to hurt me. It felt good. The more I saw of the world, the more I wanted from life. I listened to people around me and I learned a lot. When I got a job as a nanny, I had to trust the family to take me in. The family needed me but they didn’t want me there. It was an awkward situation to be in but one I was kind of used to.

I had to trust strangers to help me when I was not working. I spent time in bars to stay out of the rain. A lone young girl in a bar is not a good situation to be in. I knew that even then but I had no choice if I wanted to be warm and dry. The bartenders took pity on me and I had a feeling they kept an eye out on me as I was alone. They never said anything to me but I had a feeling they were looking out for me. I had to be out of the house no matter what the weather did. I had to trust myself not to get drawn into advances and ridicule. I tried to just stay away in a corner minding my own business. I did a lot of people-watching and I listened in on private conversations. I got quite good at it and it was fun. I learned that there was a local pool and it kept me away from the bars and I got to exercise which felt good.

Step 4 – Make friends

I learned to trust more people. No one seemed to take an interest in hurting me. No one knew who I was. If I paid for my drinks, my swimming sessions and my classes, no one cared what I did. It was comforting to know, and I let down my guard and got a few friends. I started to let people into my life and my friends wanted to know me.

Step 5 – Trust Life

Life doesn’t always work out the way you want it to. There will always be a few disappointments along the way. For some people, there are more than for others. When I hit my first huge disappointment, I felt like the world was totally against me. I felt it in my core, and I was ready to give up. I had friends now and I learned from them over time that when things don’t go your way, you have to find a new way. It took me a while, but I found my way. I discovered new opportunities that I would never have had without my friends.

If you are a survivor and you find it difficult to trust other people, then you are not alone. Be assured that you will also find your way in life. I had it in me to start trusting the people near me and to go out and start living again. It is good to be aware of people because not everyone you meet is kind. Most people, however, are not going to hurt you. Trust in your instincts and go out there! There are so many wonderful things waiting for you if you just try. I did and so can you!

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