It started with the snakes.
The word around my second-grade class field trip was that there would be snakes in the nature preserve. I’d never seen a snake in my life, and that was fine with me. The thought of being bitten was terrifying.
“I’m not going,” I announced to my little friends. “My parents wouldn’t let me go somewhere unsafe.”
To my horror, my parents later informed me I was indeed going on the field trip with the snakes. I begged and cried, but they still forced me to get on the bus that day. When it was all over, I hadn’t seen a single snake, but something even worse happened. For the first time, I formed a belief that shaped the direction of the rest of my life.
My parents couldn’t be trusted to protect me.
Maybe they sent me on the field trip because they thought it was good for me to get out in the sunshine. They may have known the chance of me seeing a snake was low. All I knew in my child’s mind was that I’d come to both of them looking for protection from something I feared, and neither one of them helped me. If my own parents wouldn't take care of me, what about the rest of the world? It was such a small moment in my life, but it was the first time I didn’t feel like I could count on anybody. From then on, I subconsciously guarded my heart, afraid to trust.
In my high school years, Kim was one of my best friends. We both lived in the same run-down apartment building near the train tracks off Dixie Highway. She was the only other girl in a neighborhood of adults, and we bonded over magazines, makeovers, and smoking our first cigarettes together. Neither of us came from decent circumstances, but hanging out with her made me feel happy and like the young girl I was supposed to be.
In our junior year of school, I almost got beat up by my boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend in front of the Taco Viva I worked at. Once I got the ex-girlfriend to calm down, she told me I’d said terrible things about her behind her back. When I asked who told her that, she said it was Kim. I felt betrayed in the worst way. Yes, Kim and I were making stupid jokes about the girl, BOTH of us, but Kim only threw me under the bus. By some miracle, I didn’t get beat up that day, but I learned I couldn’t trust my best friend. That was far worse than any punch in the face might have been. I questioned my judgment as far as who to let into my life, and as I grew older, I became more jaded.
I grew up with a mother who gossiped, and her favorite subject was me. She’d get on the phone with a family member and betray every secret I ever told her. Not only that, she let them all know how “horrible” I was treating her. Nobody ever asked for my side of the story. I was chalked up as being an unruly teenager and an ungrateful young woman when I was older. After a while, it was easier to let people think that was true. I saw no need to defend myself.
My second husband, Micah, was a gaslighter. He did so much mental damage to me that I still suffer from PTSD today. I’d just come out of a nasty divorce where I was cheated on, but Micah charmed me so effectively it made the pain go away. Then he messed with my mind for the next seven years. It took every ounce of power I had to break his spell over me. He said horrible things about me and the people I loved. He told me my own children didn’t need me, and I believed him. I was crazy and a total loser, hadn’t he said so? When I ended the relationship, all I had left was a horrible sense of betrayal and mistrust.
I cast my net wide, covering everyone around me in suspicion whether they deserved it or not. Nobody was trustworthy in my eyes, and that included my family and friends. I cut off connections left and right, afraid somebody would try to trick me again. My PTSD told me that everyone around me would hurt me, eventually.
When I first met Matt, my husband today, the damage from all those years still burned bright. I made up a whole story in my head about how he would trick me and dump me when I least expected it. My beliefs kept us at a distance at first when I decided he couldn’t possibly be as romantic and kind as he appeared. There had to be a sinister reason he paid me so much attention. After all, why else would he want a "total loser" like me?
The baggage I brought into our new relationship nearly tore us apart. Not only didn’t I trust Matt, but I also didn’t trust myself to make good decisions about love. Matt knew what I’d been through and was patient with me. I drove him crazy with my constant questions of where he was and what he was doing and if there were any other women there. Micah not only threatened to cheat all the time, but he’d also cheat and then brag about it because the girl was “so much better” than me.
Matt didn’t do any of that. He said things that made me feel secure, and I learned to trust him little by little. The more of my life I shared with him, the more he honored it and kept my love safe.
Most importantly, Matt was consistent. If he said he would be somewhere, he’d always be there before I had a chance to get anxious about being stood up. He told me stories about his past, not just the good but also the bad. In his way, Matt showed me he was trusting me, and I felt better about trusting him in return. When I told him stories about me that should have had him running for the exit, he stayed right by my side. When I worried about other women, he handed me his phone and told me to look through it. I didn’t look. I already knew everything I needed to know. Matt was one of the good ones.
Matt is my first experience with truly trusting somebody since I was a young girl. I can honestly say now I trust him with my life. I’ve tried in the last few years to become more trusting with people in general and open my heart to let the light in. There’s always a risk of being hurt, but I’ve learned it’s better to take risks than not fully live my life because I’m afraid.
It’s also important to me to be somebody other people can trust. At the worst points of my life, I know I let my loved ones down, sadly including my children. It took years for them to trust me again after I broke my word over and over. Now I’m extra careful to be consistent and do what I say I’m going to do. For the people that I love, I want my word to be my bond.
My husband showed me it was okay to believe in somebody again. It may be the greatest gift he’s ever given me, and I cherish the freedom it brings me every day.