“Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future”
Warning: This post was written without the aid of caffeine. It may be less coherent than most.
A friend has been habitually trying to startle me. It was purely playful and goofy. I have been extremely easy to startle. I usually react spectacularly with a good yelp, a jump and bugging out eyes. Kind of worth the minimum effort on his part. But, I also have lashed out violently in response. Luckily, upon recognizing the “attacker” I am usually able to retract my defense. Though I knew it was coming, he got me and I think I started to strike out.
It’s been decades since anyone has purposely tried to startle me. My husband knows to announce himself before he enters a room. Sometimes it’s a no win situation because even knocking at the door or calling me from the hallway will do it. My biggest concern is hurting someone. Oh, and to say it is unpleasant is an understatement.
For my well being I thought I should assert myself and set boundaries. For a moment I considered “taking it”. But this was bigger then politely tolerating a friend’s obsession with Pez dispensers, or arcane Operas. This touches a deep freight in me. Absorbing the indignity to maintain a relationship wasn’t healthy. Masculinity is also wrapped in there. Jumping or flailing when suddenly approached isn’t the best display of machismo. Was it adding insult to injury to ask for him to not do it?
I could have just said “hey stop it”. But the intensity of my freight is tied into my history and I would have been hiding if I didn’t say so. In an email I explained to him that my experiences were terrifying to me, and included links to this blog.
My friend is a smart, intelligent man whom I know him to be a good person. Even so, when I hit “send” I instantly regretted it. I was afraid I said too much. Setting boundaries was already pushing it, but going into events 4 decades old was “just over the line”, “move on Brian”. (I am extremely practiced at finding reasons to never bring the abuse up!) I was afraid he would find me “weak and pathetic, tied to events that really weren’t that traumatic to start off with”…(Wow I am starting to see that this dread of disclosure as just my shame and self blame talking. It is how I hold myself responsible, not for the events, but for my “incorrect” feelings about them i.e. if I were stronger, or even just of average strength, these events would have been meaningless.)
I was so wrapped up in my fear that I couldn’t even comprehend his response. The words were unintelligible and I twisted them into “you went too far, get over it, calm the fuck down” . Calm Down? Why would I give away my only protection? My ability to rapidly and violently respond is my only weapon against threats. I know I wouldn’t freeze! Why would I tamper with that? This is the response that knocked a man twice my size over. This is the berzerk that helped me escape 2 guys trying to stuff me in their car**. I see that defence directly tied into my heightened startle response. I saw how terrified I was of calming down.
Once I was able to really read his response, there was no admonishment. He didn’t intend to resurrect torment and would be careful approaching me. I also saw his powerful story of how he found strength by slowing down. He spoke of allowing himself the dignity to take his time.
I was concerned when I saw just how big my fear of calming down was. I don’t want to live like that! My therapist (and husband) are convinced that if I am ever really attacked, I will respond, I don’t need to keep a fire lit to guarantee it. Constantly staying “ready” just ties me to the past. Not sure how I am going to slow down. But I started by eliminating the second mug of espresso I drink every day. For awhile, I will be a sleepy pioneer of the future.
* This quote really speaks to me here and now. I’ve never read anything by him. I will say his website is a bit to slick and commercial looking for me to venture into.
** When I was 21 I headed out one night. I had on slick dance shoes and the sidewalk was starting to ice up. On an empty block, I didn’t see the 3 guys in a car. Suddenly 2 football player types jumped out of the passenger doors and tried to drag me into their car. I have no idea how I got away, but I did. How did I ever get away from them? I fought like fucking hell. No skills, just bonker fear.