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An introduction to Emergent Divergence

Hello and welcome to Emergent Divergence, my name is David Gray-Hammond. In this blog I will be discussing autism and autistic rights, addiction and substance misuse, and mental health (and the intersection at which they overlap). I myself am autistic with co-occuring OCD, psychotic experiences and complex trauma, i am also in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction.

The goal of understanding and acceptance of these issues is a journey that i hope you will join me on as i seek to delve into the viewpoints of those who hold them close to their hearts. I look to advocate on the behalf of those whose voices may not necessarily be heard.

I hope that you find this blog informative and thought provoking.

You can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter and read more of my writing on NeuroClastic.

Find a link to a session I did with Aucademy on autism and addiction here.

Continue reading “An introduction to Emergent Divergence”

How can substance use services be more accessible to Autistic clients?

I have written before about the barriers to accessing substance use services when you are both autistic, and an addict; today I’m going to approach from a different angle.

In this post, I will be talking about a few things that such services can do to increase accessibility, improving the quality of treatment that autistic and neurodivergent substance users recieve.

Let’s begin.

One of the first things I always point out, is how difficult it can be to keep track of appointment schedules when you are autistic. Services can improve this by using automated messages several times leading up to an appointment in order to remind the client of the details.

Services can also offer an array of reminders through different mediums so that the client can pick the reminder that will work best for them. It would also be helpful if key workers a medical staff could let clients know what will be discussed in the appointment so that they can prepare themselves for it.

The next one is a personal favourite of mine, and I’m yet to see it implemented.

The waiting room environment in treatment facilities can be overwhelming. Sensory friendly waiting rooms, designed by autistic people, for autistic people, could make a real difference here.

It’s impossible to recieve effective treatment if you are going into an appointment already overwhelmed. Thought should also be given to the appointment environment.

The last two are connected, and vital.

First, staff need to be trained on the difference between a panic attack, and a meltdown, and how to calmly and compassionately de-escalate both. Both of these situations have the potential to completely derail treatment if they are handled inappropriately.

Finally, staff need to recieve regular training on autism and neurodiversity, from Autistic and neurodivergent trainers (bonus points if they are also in recovery from addiction). Many staff in these places only know what medical schools and brief awareness courses teach. Often, they view things through the deficit-based medical model of neurodiversity.

Anyone of these changed could vastly improve accessibility, but all of them together would make a vast difference to the treatment environment. It’s important to note that it would not just benefit autistic clients.

When we improve the environment for autsitic and neurodivergent individuals, it generally improves it for everyone.

5 lessons I have learned in 5 years of sobriety

Today (7th April 2021) I have been sober from drug and alcohol addiction for five years. In that time I have faced many challenges and learnt many lessons. In this piece, I hope to share some of those lessons with you.

1. Not everything will be perfect once you get sober.

Addiction is am absolute monster of a battle, but the battles don’t stop eith sobriety. Life is full of ups and downs, and you will need to learn to cope with the downs without returning to your addiction. Life will always throw curve balls.

2. Addiction will try and catch you out.

Sometimes addiction will feel like a living entity in your brain. Good or bad times, there will be moments when your mind will try and convince you that “just one drink will be okay”, or “maybe I can just have a few tokes of that spliff”.

Your brain is lying to you. It never stops with just the one. The addicted mind seeks to destroy itself, don’t let it.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Everyone, addict or not, needs help from time to time. It’s important that you get to grips with who you are, and learn to advocate for and communicate your needs. Communication is key in recovery.

4. Socialising can be just as fulfilling without drugs and alcohol.

One of the greatest joys of my life was learning to enjoy the company of others without using mind altering substances. The realisation that I could mess around with my friends and have a laugh, whilst also remaining sober has really set me free.

5. Mindfulness is your friend.

This one, the last one, is really important. Learn to sit with your emotions. Observe them, and let them pass. Nothing lasts forever, even the deepest of distress. When used in conjuction with lesson 3, it makes sobriety a whole lot easier. Remember that mindfulness takes practice, and you have to practice in the good times, so that in the bad times you are ready to use it.

And that’s it. Five lessons I have learnt in five years of sobriety. Never forget the power of community for finding recovery, reach out and use every tool in the toolbox. Five years ago I was nearly dead. I hope that my existence now proves just how possible it is to return from the brink.

Thank you all for your support.

Accepting Autistics and other radical notions

It’s April, so you know it’s about to get real bloody frustrating trying to be heard over the like of Autism Speaks and other problematic groups claiming to represent “people with autism”.

When it comes to the notorious Autism Speaks there is one thing in particular that we should facing up to. Cure culture.

Cure culture is the ultimate way to show autistic people that you do not accept them for who they are. It starts with better known interventions, such as ABA, and spreads all the way to dangerous quack cures such as Miracel Mineral Solution/Chlorine Dioxide abuse.

Why does society want to cure us? Because it values the status quo over the beauty of human diversity. Unless your quirkiness somehow makes you economically valuable, the world seeks to stamp it out. It’s the ultimate way that capitalistic society harms autistic people. Some people will literally murder autistic people rather than embrace our neurodiversity.

Let me lay it out for you. There is no cure for autism. Taking autism out of the person is like taking the engine out of a car. The car no longer functions as a car. Being autistic is our physical wiring, without it, we would not be who we are.

This is what upsets me so much when I see parents and carers seeking to “cure” their autistic children and loved ones. Yes, we face daily struggles, but how much do you have to resent your child in order to want to change them into a co.pletely different person?

That’s what it comes down to. Resentment. The world resents us for existing. It resents us because we demand equal rights, and the world has to put in work to meet those demands. The old rules of “more rights for me, does not mean less for you” has never rung more true.

If I could stamp out one thing this April, it would be cure culture.

This April, please listen to and amplify #ActuallyAutistic voices. Be an ally to the autistic community.

Filming addicts in crisis is a form of violence

I remember some years ago when the drug known as “spice” was sweeping through my country. Not only were the tabloids having a field day, and not only were people filming addicts on the street under the influence, I was using it.

It was a relatively common sight in some cities. Individuals helplessly and mindlessly stumbling around in a zombie like fashion, people screaming curses, refusing to see the suffering of those of us who were hooked on the stuff.

But what I really want to focus in on are the people who were filming us. They were the worst kind of people, and sadly, they still exist.

The people holding the cameras often claimed that they were “spreading awareness”. In fact what they did, was post the video to social media, and embark upon discussions of how people like me were scum, how we deserved to die, how our suffering was our own fault.

They weren’t spreading awareness, they were spreading hate. It was an act of violence against a group of people that are already significantly marginalised by society. It was the moral model of addiction running at full tilt.

When a person is suffering in such a way, filming them and posting it to Facebook is perhaps one of the most humiliating things you can do. Unfortunately, humiliation is what these people go for. People speak words and carry out acts of violence against addicts eith great regularity. Often without ever raising a fist.

I hope dearly that none of my followers have ever done such a thing. And if you have, I hope you have come to feel remorse about it. By doing such things, you are actively helping to kill addicts.

If it sounds like I am using strong words, then take heed. This is not a harmless matter. Imagine trying to rebuild your life from addiction while videos of you in the thick of it circulate on social media. The Internet is forever.

If you ever see a person suffering in such a way, please extend compassion. Make sure they are safe, call for any help that may be appropriate. You can also help protect opioid addicts by receiving naloxone training. The dawn of naloxone has saved many, many lives.

Addicts are human beings with emotions, hopes, and dreams. We are often traumatised children. Extend compassion where you can.

Why is the moral model of addiction so prevalent?

As previously discussed, the moral model of addiction, in which addiction is seen as a moral failing, is inadequate for our understanding of addiction and formulating a means to approach it. Despite this, the moral model of addiction remains prolific throughout multiple cultures globally. Why is this?

In my opinion, its prevalence can be brought down to one reason, albeit somewhat complex.

Addiction appears to have a genetic component. This has been supported by some scientific evidence, although it still remains to become theory. One considerable difference between addiction and many other genetic conditions, is that addiction requires an environmental catalyst to emerge.

What do I mean by environmental catalyst? Simply put, one does not become an addict until they begin to engage with the subject of their addiction. In my case, the choice to drink alcohol and take drugs was what triggered my addiction. The question, however, still remains to be answered as to whether or not I would have become addicted to something else in the absence of those things.

This then, is perhaps where the moral model begins to emerge from. Because people make an initial choice to use, that in itself is seen as a moral failing, even though many people are able to use drink and drugs, or gamble, or play video games (etc) with a modicum of safety. This is perhaps the first failing of the moral model.

Where the moral model continues to fail is in what follows. The model in itself illustrates a world in which addiction continues to be a choice. It proposes that addiction is not a public health issue, but instead a wish to live a hedonistic lifestyle. It suggests that we as addicts want to use/drink/gamble/etc to the point that we suffer and cause suffering for others.

All of this emerges out of the concept of choice, a misunderstanding turned wilful ignorance of the addicted condition.

Addiction is not a choice. It is not a matter of hedonism and criminality, it is a matter of trauma and public health. Continuing to allow the moral model to prevail allows addicts around the globe to suffer and die needlessly. We must continue to dismantle the stigma surrounding addiction and to educate people on the truth of this condition.

We must bring an end to the criminalisation of addiction, and we can’t succeed at that until the moral model dies.

Autistic, Ace, and dating: A complicated affair

The world of dating is complicated and nuanced. There are unwritten social rules everywhere, and often, unrealistic expectations. I am lucky now to be in a relationship with a fellow ace whom I love dearly, and accepts me as I am, but prior to this, I took 8 years off of dating.

Here’s why.

I am an autistic male. Autistic men are often seen as “creepy” because we love intensely, are socially awkward, and deeply passionate about our (often) very niche interests. Even those of us who mask, find people losing interest as soon as they learn we are autistic. Stereotypes are abound about autism.

I am also asexual. This presents a unique challenge for a world that expects men to be overly sexual. Toxic masculinity tends to judge men on their willingness to engage in regular sex. In the past I masked my asexuality with hypersexuality, which was deeply traumatic.

Living on the intersection of these two identities means that I am never what is expected of men in the dating world. I am not the confident “alpha male” that toxic standards want me to be. I can go years without sex (most recently I went 8 years without sex), not through celibacy, but purely because there are other forms of intimacy I prefer.

I had resigned myself to a life of solitude because I didn’t see a world in which anyone would be interested in me. Once I dropped the mask, people seemed less attracted to me, romantically speaking.

When I joined dating apps I felt that I was just going through the motions. I hadn’t even recognised my own asexuality. So you can imagine my feeling of serendipity when I met a woman who was asexual (but had not advertised it).

She helped me come to terms with my own asexuality, and accepted every part of me. It was a vital step on my journey of self-acceptance. Many men like me struggle to find this, but here was the proof that it was possible.

Autistic and/or asexual people get a rough deal when it comes to dating, but it is more than possible for us to find a partner, should we want one. Autistic people especially are drawn to each other, and when we meet, we understand each other to a depth that is difficult to describe to the layperson.

Don’t give up. I was ready to, and then I found the right person. Unfortunately, even neurotypicals have to wade through a sea of crap before finding the right person. While this problem may be amplified for those of us on one or more spectrums, it is not an impossible problem.

Re-earning trust after active addiction

Those of us who have been through, or are currently in active addiction, know all too well that very few people trust us in the early days of recovery. To an extent it’s justified. We cheat, lie, and steal to meet the requirements of our addiction. But what happens when a person stops using?

When I was in early recovery, my family and friends were very strict around me, and constantly worried that I would relapse. It was very obvious to me that everything I did was being evaluated for the warning signs of active addiction. Truthfully? I know that even today they still worry.

Recovering addicts need an element of trust. Much like taking the training wheels off of a bicycle, it is important that addicts feel able to recover in whatever way works for them. But trust has to be earned.

We as addicts can start to earn back that trust by being open and honest. Talk about your feelings, set boundaries, admit when you are craving after the object of your addiction. Show people that you are doing the hard work needed to recover.

In my opinion, we never stop recovering from addiction. Addiction doesn’t go away, it merely goes into remission. People need to see that we are doing all we can to prevent it’s return. Recovery takes hard work and dedication.

If you are in active addiction right now, it probably seems like an insurmountable challenge to stop using. I assure you that while the challenge is steep, it can be tackled one step at a time. Write your own map of a journey that will work for you.

Trust me, you’ve got this.

Autistic representations in the media: The wider conversation

If Sia’s film did any good for the autistic community, it opened up a wider conversation about how autistic people are represented and portrayed in popular media. There are very few, if any, perfect representations. One could argue that this is an impossibility anyway, given the diverse nature of autistic presentations.

This has opened up the wider conversation of disability representation in general. One might think that in the “enlightened” 2020s, disabled actors have ample opportunity to portray their own disabilities on screen. Sadly, the vast majority of disabled roles are given to non-disabled folk.

My personal opinion on this, is that it comes from a place of ableism. The people in charge of casting assume that we won’t be able to handle the pressure of working in the media. To put it another way, they believe that non-disabled people are more capable of portraying us. Our capability is always in question.

This also highlights a greater issue. Media representations don’t care if their portrayal is authentic.

Autistic people especially have to sit through unrelatable characters, with what is usually rather offensive stereotyping. The people on charge of these projects don’t seem to do any more research other than the bare minimum. They don’t care if their portrayal is accurate, as long as it is entertaining.

We need to continue to put pressure on production companies to put disabled actors in disabled roles. We have the right to tell our own stories. Autistic people have cried out #NothingAboutUsWithoutUs for years. And it’s time that the world started listening.

Autistic people are not a stereotype. They are a beautifully diverse tapestry of human experience, and we as Autistics have a right to decide how that tapestry is shown to the world.

Nothing more, nothing less. We certainly won’t settle for less.

An introduction to gaming addiction amongst Autistics

Another lesser discussed addiction for autistic people is gaming. Video games offer an escape from the real world, with minimal health consequences compared to other addictive escapes such as substance use.

Gaming addiction can be an easy trap to fall into when you are looking for an escape from the world. In fact, when I was using drugs, I was also gaming for 18 hours a day. I was so depressed in the real world, and video games offered me an acceptable break from my grim reality.

What’s the appeal of gaming?

Online gaming allows for socialisation without the pressure of in-person interaction. You are speaking to people over a headset, usually about the game you are playing, which is likely a special interest. In this medium, it is acceptable to infodump and talk about the video game at length, as opposed to other scenarios where this might be penalised.

For autistic people who have immersed themselves in the game story and lore, and developed expertise in things such as the loot systems within the game; this knowledge is actively rewarded with social standing amongst other gamers and more positive outcomes in the game.

Video games offer structure and logical rules that can be easy to follow. In a world full of chaos, gaming allows for some semblance of control. It is not surprising then that so many autistic people feel more comfortable in the digital world than the real one.

Many video games offer a rich story with thousands of hours of background (also known as “lore”) that one can become completely engrossed in. In my game of choice, Destiny, there is so much lore that in nearly 7 years of playing, I still haven’t read it all.

With this in mind, it’s easy to see how the rewards of escaping into video games may cause Autistics to fall foul of addiction to them. Like any good thing, there is such a thing as too much.

Some of the signs of gaming addiction (from my own experience) may be:

1. Inability to walk away from the game

2. Excessive use of the game, to the point that it is affecting relationships.

3. Skipping work or school regularly to play the game.

4. Excessive anger or violence when the game is interrupted.

Gaming addiction is now recognised in the International Classification of Diseases, and as such, there is a growing base of support for this phenomenon.

If you think you may be addicted to gaming, and are looking to stop, please consider speaking to a mental health professional. Addiction is a complex condition, which can move itself from one medium to another. If the root causes of addiction are not addressed, then the likelihood of relapse, or the addiction transferring to another medium are more likely.

[GUEST POST] Dating my way back to healthy

Written by Sarah Snow

CW: Suicide, Rape, Cancer, Intimate partner violence

After leaving an abusive relationship, I developed a plan to create healthy relationships as a way to heal past traumas. I was determined to never choose another situation where I would give away my power to someone else, and by using my background as a psychology major and the years I had already spent in therapy, I came up with a personal plan to heal. I embarked on a year long journey to become trauma informed, heal my trauma, and then create new relationships that would support me in my growth.

Trauma is when a distressing event causes extended long term damage to our brain and nervous system, resulting in poorly regulated emotional responses and long term issues. The more helpless you feel, the more likely you are to be traumatized, and our bodies will replay the event repeatedly through our behavior until it is healed. When childhood trauma is not resolved, a sense of fear and helplessness will follow us into adulthood. When trauma isn’t healed, over time it can look like personality, family traits or culture. Healing is ultimately a lifelong discovery of learning the ways we have been holding ourselves back in our lives, and overcoming all of the limits placed on ourselves by our own minds. 

In my own life, I experienced many traumatic events and have a long list. When I was 3, my mother drove off of a cliff and was crushed between a truck and a tree, resulting in a head injury and her being permanently physically disabled, which meant many responsibilities fell to me as a child, due to my father being absent and neglectful. My mother’s bipolar went undiagnosed until shortly before her suicide in 2018. I was bullied and socially ostracized by my peers while growing up. All of this and more impacted how I function today.

I was late diagnosed with Aspergers officially in 2007 when I was already 26, and thus share a story that is common with many other autistics in my age group of millennials who grew up being the scapegoated child, whose behaviors got them labeled as the “bad” one in the family, when all they really needed was empathy and more effort from those around them. All of these traumatic experiences added up to me scoring an ACE’s (Adverse Childhood Experiences) score of 8. Adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, are potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood and are linked to chronic health problems, mental illness, and substance misuse in adulthood. According to the CDC, nearly 1 in 6 adults reported they had experienced four or more types of ACE’s, and the economic and social costs to families, communities, and society totals hundreds of billions of dollars each year. (Find out your own ACE’s score here.)

I then went on to have cancer twice as an adult, before leaving my psychologically and emotionally abusive marriage of over ten years. My marriage taught me that if someone only “loves” you when you do what they want, it’s not love, it’s control. My entire story is one of survival and overcoming my circumstances to make the best of what I was given. We all have different starting points, but almost every single one of us carries some form of trauma that is waiting to be healed.

“We’re all stories in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?”

Doctor Who 

The single biggest risk with trauma is the fact that it causes a chronic belief in the idea that paranoia and mistrust are actual prerequisites of survival. You start thinking that assuming good faith in anyone is actually dangerous, because it leaves you open to being dominated or exploited. This generates a negative feedback loop, which ultimately means that you no longer have the ability to trust anyone, because you assume that the only outcome of attempting to do so will be pain.

Trauma is healed in safe environments where we feel seen, heard, understood and accepted. I knew I would need to have healthier models around me for the behaviors that I was trying to create in myself. Because trauma shatters your sense of security, it’s important to create supportive non judgmental environments that give us opportunities to experience feelings of safety and trust. Surrounding myself with people who could offer me grace and understanding that I’m always trying my best even when I’m not always at my best became a priority in my recovery. I didn’t know what healthy was yet, but I knew that it was what I ultimately wanted, and I wasn’t willing to settle until I had it. But because I didn’t have any relationships to begin with yet, I began with myself instead.

“Attract what you expect, reflect what you desire, become what you respect, and mirror what you admire.” 

– Deb Sofield

Despite a decade of being told daily by the man who I married that I wouldn’t make it out of our marriage alive, I was still deeply shocked and traumatized when my former husband reacted to my request for an amicable divorce by raping me and then throwing me out into the cold a few days later on October 14, 2019. My world turned upside down and was suddenly a terrifying and unpredictable place. I was immediately very afraid of men in general, I felt they were all out to get me somehow, but I didn’t want to have that crippling fear of people anymore. I went out of my way to reach out to a few select men I already knew who seemed fairly non toxic and self aware, and could model for me the healthy boundaries that I was trying to emulate. During the early days of being homeless in my van in the winter of 2019, a dear friend from high school reconnected with me and agreed to help to guide me through my healing process by providing me a friendship as a safe place to process my trauma, and I will always be grateful to him for the time and effort he invested in me to do so. Around the same time, I also approached a local facebook friend that I trusted to spend time with, and he helped me to trust in my process and my spiritual journey. In 2020 shortly after I found stable housing I sadly lost both relationships due to being emotionally reactive and having trauma responses before immediately regretting burning my bridges, but the reasons for my actions don’t matter, ultimately I am responsible for the consequences of lashing out at them.

Both of those men practiced a relationship style called polyamory, having consensual loving relationships with more than one partner, which led me to discovering a relationship style called Solo Polyamory, the practice of having multiple loving relationships while still maintaining independence and living as a single person. As someone recovering from Intimate Partner Violence I found the idea of putting my autonomy and freedom first empowering, and embraced the concept of dating myself. I never really understood hierarchical ranking the importance of human beings by applying specific labels to them anyway. Everyone is a partner. Love is love!

Dating myself meant setting fun dates to focus on self care, but it also meant becoming the kind of partner that I would want to date, so I had to get very honest with myself quickly about what would potentially hold me back once I actually was dating other people again. In order to attract what I wanted, I had to first become it. I learned the difference between loneliness and being alone when I started enjoying my own company. I started journaling lists of my triggers and areas I still needed to grow, but also listed the things I was doing right, and wrote myself love letters. Finding a balance and practicing self compassion was so important! I made a list of goals and went back to therapy. I started following mental health professionals on social media. And I started reading self help books on codependency and attachment theory as well as childhood trauma. One of my favorites is “Unf#ck Your Brain: Using Science To Get Over Anxiety, Depression, Anger, Freak-Outs and Triggers,” by Faith G. Harper, Phd LPC-S ACS ACN. This taught me that an underlying issue was my own boundaries. Boundaries are limited rules within our relationships, and can be rigid, porous, or healthy. They can be physical, emotional, sexual, intellectual, or financial. In addition to being extended to others, they also apply to ourselves. Learning healthy boundaries was a key factor in my eventually finding healthy relationships. 

The Four Principles of Healthy Boundaries
1. Let people down, but don’t let down the people who matter.
2. Make conscious compromises
3. Be comfortable with discomfort
4. Don’t be the elephant in the room.

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Also instrumental in my recovery was in teaching myself green flags. I knew about red flags from my earlier classes in preventing Intimate Partner Violence and the patterns I had already seen in my marriage to my ex husband, such as lovebombing, gaslighting, shaming or belittling, isolating, testing boundaries, blame shifting and fault finding to not take responsibility, among others. But learning that there were also green flags to look for allowed me to create standards for myself and identify things to look for in the healthy relationship I wanted but had yet to experience. These relationship green flags include open communication, vulnerability, empathy, integrity and personal responsibility, self sufficiency, healthy hobbies, spirituality, long standing friendships, the ability to self reflect, honors boundaries, practices self care and has long standing friendships. Affection, maturity, confidence – suddenly I knew exactly what I was looking for. 

I became very intentional in my search. In the early fall of 2020 I created what I called my “recipe for a mate,” a list of qualities I wrote out to narrow down my search. I became specific and in addition to green flags, I identified my own values that I wanted to see reflected in a romantic relationship, such as understanding consent, being a child at heart who likes to play and a best friend before anything else. I knew my standards were high but I also knew that I was able to reciprocate anything that I was requesting, so I refused to compromise until I found it. 

I slowly began to put myself in situations where I would meet other people, but I did not use dating sites or apps because I knew I wouldn’t find the love I was looking for amongst people just trying to fill a void of loneliness. If I wanted to find someone like me, I was going to find them in places that people like me hung out in. The search began by letting my friends know that I was starting to look and was open to finding someone else again, and then due to it being a pandemic I simply began being more active in Facebook groups created for people with similar interests as me. Then I was patient and just leaned into the pause. I knew I was ready so I waited for love to come and find me, and eventually it did!

“An old alchemist gave the following consolation to one of his disciples: no matter how isolated you are and how lonely you feel, if you do your work truly and conscientiously, unknown friends will come and seek you.”

Carl G. Jung

I learned by trial and error. Success is a function of correction; try, try again! The first relationship found me by commenting on a post I made. We discovered things in common and mutual interests but then I started overlooking red flags once my feelings got involved. Things started escalating quickly which should have been another red flag, but at the time I didn’t know any better. It ended badly after a few months but it taught me a lot about searching for partners who appreciate things rather than judge them, and who can take responsibility instead of justifying and laying blame. This was the relationship that taught me to recognize trauma bonds, the process through which you begin to confuse abusive behavior for love. In healthy love, your affection for one another grows over time. In a trauma bond, it’s instantaneous because it’s not love, it’s attachment, an idea of love that makes you feel better about a preexisting issue in your life. With every failure I was able to narrow my search, and every time I walked away from toxic it got easier. Already having several newer healthy relationships to walk towards helped to leave the toxic behind me where I left it.

After learning to identify and walking away from trauma bond relationships, my patience and resilience paid off, and love started showing up in my life, usually in unsought for and entirely unexpected ways. This led to an entirely new challenge, how to navigate healthy relationships for the first time, which ended up being much scarier than I first anticipated. Being autistic, I had to teach myself small talk for essentially the first time, and in the beginning I would bombard my dates with infodumps as a way of attempting to bond. Many of the people I had started talking to were neurotypical and not on the spectrum at all, and while they were willing to meet me in the middle this also meant I had to learn more effective ways of communicating, such as using “I” statements that didn’t come naturally to me. However, I keep trying to do better than I did the day before, and things get a little easier each day. 

My new healthy relationships are teaching me how to be a better person and a better partner, which in turn makes me a better parent for my children. Each of my partners is showing me with effort and not words what it means to care for the people you love. One of my relationships is about five months old and he has yet to actually say I love you, but he shows me daily in how he shows up for me and is present in my life that he already does, so I know it will come eventually when he’s ready. He’s been the literal opposite of my ex’s love bombing and future faking, slow and steady was everything I needed to teach me how to trust.

In summary, healing trauma will only happen in an emotionally supportive environment, and to achieve that we have to be selective about the people we surround ourselves with, especially during the dating process. Invest your time in yourself first to become who you want to attract. Take a personal inventory of strengths and weaknesses, then turn those weaknesses into strengths and goals to smash! Learn to be okay with being alone. Brush up on your own relationship skills. Get intentional and know what you want before tuning in and broadcasting your signal. Take it slow and put in the time to get to know someone. Be willing to walk away when things aren’t working. Don’t chase or force anything, trust in the timing and most importantly, expect the unexpected!

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Sarah Snow was previously a psychology major, before becoming a mother and teaching preschool. She had breast cancer twice before leaving her ex husband and becoming an advocate for intimate partner violence and trauma education. When she isn’t spending time with her wonderful kids or volunteering at her local library, she loves writing and painting, and living a peaceful and intentional life!