‘Stumptown’ Actress On Learning to Cope With PTSD From Sexual Assault
"I learned a type of therapy called DBT, dialectic behavioral therapy, it’s basically a system of installing boundaries."
February 6, 2020
I am a woman and actress who is and might always be recovering from PTSD. I grew up with two agoraphobic drug-addicted parents. Needless to say, there was plenty of trauma to overcome. Coming from parents who suffer from mental illness, it’s not only the mental illness that must be overcome, it’s also their learned coping skills.
I also grew up in extreme poverty, and that is its own trauma to survive. The education system is incredibly poor and has been for so very long due to systemic racism… Is there a term for systemic poverty-ism?
Couple that with the trauma of day to day poverty and worries of, “Will I have enough to eat?” “Will I be safe?” “Will my house be a safe place to sleep tonight?” Mental health and education unfortunately take a backseat when a child or person is not safe.
I joined the Air Force to get away from my upbringing and to look for some sort of opportunities in life. Unfortunately a few months into the military, a supervisor with a key to my room let himself in during the middle of the night and assaulted me. After that night, I learned how not to sleep. I never slept through the night again. Any room I walked into I checked for exits and things that could be used as weapons and constantly surveyed the scene and the people in it. This is called hyper-vigilance. It’s terrible for making friends and “networking.” That night broke me, I know my childhood wasn’t the greatest, but somehow because I was raised there I knew how to survive. But being the property of the US government, and still not feeling safe, that was beyond my brain’s comprehension. I didn’t know who to tell, I didn’t know who to trust. When I finally did come around to telling a chaplain, well that story plays out like your typical conspiracy theory.
I no longer felt safe in the world, and I no longer felt like participating in society. That’s when I think the seed was planted for me to be an actress. Without realizing it, I was gravitating towards a world of make-believe and empowerment. I met other people in my career who’ve talked about feeling like having a place on stage, so clearly marked with a bright spotlight, almost as if it’s saying, “Here! Right here you have a voice.” Like it’s the only place in the world you have permission to exist. That’s where I began to put my life back together. Being forced to make eye contact, being forced to address status on and off stage. Having a place for pain and anger that is shunned in society. Being forced to speak to the back row with raw emotion.
I eventually got strong enough to go to therapy. I learned a type of therapy called DBT (Dialectic Behavioral Therapy). It’s basically a system of installing boundaries. Lack of boundaries feels like the new “slut-shaming.” If you don’t have boundaries, society feels carte blanche to violate you. Like it’s permission, it’s not. If a person doesn’t have boundaries, it’s because they didn’t have the privilege of boundaries. Whether that’s because of parents, socioeconomic status, physical, mental or sexual assault.
The process of dialectical behavior therapy taught me that I have the right to respect myself above anything and anyone else. It also taught me how to achieve it. The better I get at it, the more people seem to see value in me and treat me better. It’s as if boundaries are almost pheromonal, and your place in the pack changes. So instead of learning how to fight, you finally learn how to relax. Which is an incredible form of mental health.
Toni Torres is an actress known for Amazon’s “Goliath.
This site is for educational purposes and not a substitute for professional medical care by a doctor or otherwise qualified medical professional. The information provided by Outlier Magazine is on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services.