Ask Tré

By TRE STEPHENS

Dear Tré,

As someone who has experienced trauma, I find that I put myself in unhealthy situations and relationships with people more often than I should. I have desires and like everyone else, a need for connection, but I am always putting myself in situations. How do I make sure I am putting myself first and how do I make sure that I am not hurting my mental health by doing something I believe I want, or fostering relationships I think I need?

Sincerely, Anonymous

Dear Reader, 

This is a question that doesn’t really have a simple answer. Here is what I will do: I will share a story with you and hopefully it helps you come up with a solution for your problem. 

        As a gay black man, it was and still is very hard to figure out if I was ever going to find good love in my life. In a world where every part of my being is wrong, how could I ever be good enough for someone? When I first started dating, I found it to be extremely hard, especially in the gay community. It is a community where we are all supposed to be proud of who we are, yet we reduce each other to labels like “twink,” “otter” or “bear.” Don’t ask me what they mean, because I don’t even know. 

Anyways, while I was starting to date, I did meet a guy. This guy was nice to me and made me feel good about myself. After a while, I eventually decided to become his boyfriend. Now, things were good in the beginning, but after a while I started losing parts of myself to him and this relationship. I found myself doing things for him that I would never do today, calling it a compromise because I was afraid that he would leave me. I wish I knew that he would have still left me, even if I didn’t do those things. When he left me, I was broken inside, wondering to myself how I let this happen. How did I lose him and what could I have done better? The reality is that I did all that I could and he still left me. Not because I was a bad boyfriend, or because our relationship was trash, but because he got bored with me. It took a really good friend of mine to help me see that I have to value myself before someone else can value me. I had to be ok with all the parts of myself and know that I bring value to any relationships I’ve had and will continue to have. 

        In terms of trauma, it is no secret that I am a sexual assault survivor. After being assaulted, I didn’t know what to do or how to feel anymore. I wasn’t sure if I was capable of being loved and that really put me in a dark place. I made some dangerous decisions and put myself in terrible situations. I didn’t want to be safe anymore and I was willing to take risks just to be able to feel something for myself and others. I wish I would have known that it takes time for traumatic wounds to heal, whether it be mental or physical. I wish I knew that I needed to work through my pain. Over time, it became clear that what I needed was to get to the root of the problem. I asked myself a very important question. Why am I sacrificing myself? More specifically, why can’t I be happy with the thought of being alone? The answer was hard for me to hear. It’s because I didn’t love who I was or who I became. I didn’t think I was worthy of the love and affection from another person and when I did get that I made choices that I never wanted to make again. 

In loving myself and finding new ways to love myself, I have opened my world to new possibilities. While I am still trying to find a way where I can now love myself and let another person into my life, I also understand that sometimes those moments will have to wait. Loving yourself doesn’t mean just thinking positive thoughts. It’s about taking the time to make decisions for the betterment of your well-being. For lack of better words, it’s taking the time to get your sh*t together. It’s mustering up the courage to tell someone that you don’t have the time to spend with them. It’s doing whatever you have to do to make yourself feel whole and content without harming yourself in the process. I had to be strong for myself — and that is what I would tell you to do. 

        My advice to you, in terms of any kind of relationship, is to figure out what is it that you want for yourself. I get that you have needs and desires, but you have to ask yourself why you want those things so badly. What is the cost for you right now? Do you need this commitment right now? These are questions you should ask yourself. Take some time to do things for yourself and by yourself. Become OK with the idea of being alone. Learn what makes you special and what brings you joy. Find ways to make yourself happy before you can expect someone else to bring you happiness. Before we can make relationships with other people, we have to have healthy relationships with ourselves, or else we will fall back into that trap of losing ourselves to other people. Don’t be afraid to be a little greedy with your time. You have one life to live, and any decent person or someone who cares about you would let you take the time you need to get things together. If they can’t see things that way,those kinds of people are toxic and you can’t be around them. Be greedy, love yourself and be patient. It will all get better.

 

Love, Tre Stephens 

 

Well that’s a wrap, folks! Ask Tre has been such a great way for me to connect with many people around the middlebury community. Thank you all for your support and reading my column. What started out as an idea between friends has grown and become something great. I hope Ask Tre can return next semester. Bye, for now— and good luck on everyones’ finals.

Tre Stephens is a member of the class of 2021