Learning to Love After Trauma
I will always remember the first time Ronan smiled at me. I was 19. It was a star-lit summery night amidst drunkards and party people in a town well-known for the collegiate party experience. After my second pimp (Tate) had abandoned me and left me desolate and starving, I needed someone nice who might have had enough heart to buy me a meal if I gave him my body in return. But there he was. We locked eyes across the party and I became overrun with warmth and desire. I kind of liked him already, but he was out of my league. Ronan could never love me for who and what I had become.
Not an hour later we were lost in each other’s arms. This time felt different, right from the start. He was so easy to be around, so genuine and kind. Eventually, we ended up going back to my place and he spent the night. It was good. And afterward, I talked and he listened as I shared just a snippet of what I had endured, just that one night when my section leader sold me to be raped and tortured by people who had sworn to defend our country and our freedom. I told him about my continued struggle to overcome the trauma and gave him the G-rated version of my issues since. I don’t know why I told him so early into our time together, but it just felt right. There was no pity, no shame. Just empathy. And maybe love? I wasn’t sure, but I felt something more than friendship. He left the next morning.
You see, I had already given up when Ronan came along. So I guess the lesson here is to not get discouraged and remain hopeful that your love will find you. When you find it, you’ll know what to do.
The next day, I was just coming off the lifeguard stand for a break when I received a text asking me to go on a date. What I didn’t know was that I would soon be on the world’s most awkward double date ever. However, we genuinely enjoyed each other’s company from the time he picked me up in his tiny car, to the kiss at the end of the date. Maybe it was because I had never known a romantic partner who was so kind and so wonderful, but I was fast falling head over heels. That was a relief because I was terrified that I was losing my ability to feel anything.
Over the next year, we grew stronger together. It wasn’t always rose gardens and honey buns, though. Some days were harder than others. The triggers fast became overwhelming for both of us. As soon as we thought we had it figured out, the preverbal onion peeled off another layer filled with additional triggers and problems to deal with. I tried going to therapy, but the therapist tried to tell me that I had hallucinated each and every rape I had endured, especially when I revealed the high-profile tricks and the partnerships between celebrated establishments in town and my trafficker. I kept trying because Ronan believed in me. I believed in him when I couldn’t believe in myself. Each time I had to switch therapists, we talked about it together and made decisions together.
Ronan is the one who told me that I should turn my pain into a way of helping others. He knew I had it in me the entire time. He knew that the hurt I endured would serve as a powerful catalyst for brilliance to create a visionary and world changer. For the next two years, he cheered me on and supported my launch of the student movement against sex trafficking at the university we both attended. He supported me and my work to co-launch of a ministry that would eventually exist to serve women who have been trafficked by providing long-term support and sustainable recovery tools. He awakened my ability to trust and renewed my sense of self-worth. We were married in my dream church on June 9th, 2012. That was the day I vowed that if I couldn’t overcome my trauma for myself, I would do it for him. I would do anything for him.
Sex was a battlefield. But it was never awkward to talk to him about it. That was our key. When we did have sex, a majority of the time ended with me becoming an emotional mess, freezing with fear and dissociating back into my state of protection when I was being raped. Ronan respected the triggers and began experimenting to figure out how to bring me back to him quicker. We found that his ring helped, as well as the crystal he bought me on one of our dates. He would press an object into my hand, curling my fingers around it until my body began to relax. Eventually the triggers would only last a few minutes using the grounding techniques and the objects were always nearby. He could always sense my bodily response to a trigger immediately. He would stop, use the object, and ask, “you good?” and wait for my response.
I wish I could draw you a roadmap of suggestions and tools for sustaining a long-term relationship after your ability to trust others has been severely mangled by wretched bear face chinchilla goblins. The map would end up looking ridiculous and there would be treacherous paths and quicksand holes. And probably snakes and spiders. My best advice is that a relationship doesn’t work with only one person doing the work. You can’t expect to find that one person who is going to fix everything and the world’s pile of crap will suddenly begin to smell of daffodils and glory. It takes both people equally raising each other up and embracing true acceptance and critique, when necessary, to promote growth in each other.
Trust is the ultimate goal.
K.T. Wings is an advocate for survivors of human trafficking with almost a decade of serving marginalized youth and adults, developing programs, and educating the public on the indicators and red flags of human sex trafficking. K.T. is an artist, a dreamer, and a visionary. She is a respected member of the Human Trafficking Survivor Leader community and continues to empower, provide support to, and collaborate with Survivor Leaders from around the globe. K.T. is renewed through relationships with friends and family, especially her Husband and their two Jack Russell Terriers. K.T. enjoys painting, singing and dancing, and yoga. K.T. has been nationally recognized for her artwork, providing two paintings for the world-renown Pathbreaker Award at the Shared Hope JuST Conference.
All names have been changed to protect the identities of all persons listed.