TETANUS BOOSTER DUE TODAY IN 2025 reads the Calendar Alert on my computer as I look for baby photos for Brayden’s classroom Valentine’s Day project. “How ironic,” I think to myself. While looking through the past, I am alerted to an event nine years into my future.
Time is so confusing. These days I find myself in a brain fog as I move through my days trying to negotiate my reflexive impulse to go towards fight or flight.
Which is it going to be?
“I want to disappear a bit …” I say in therapy today. I feel myself slipping away from myself. And as I type those words, I know it sounds scary. It even feels scary, but it’s my old coping strategy. And noticing the impulse is a gift because it means I’m not slipping away. I’m here. Now.
I disassociated when I was abused as a child. That is how I protected myself when I was scared. I left my body. I am thankful that I did.
In the here and now, Rob is sick. I feel scared. I feel myself wanting to shut down, like the animals hibernating in winter. Just slowing down enough to survive until spring emerges. Tucking deep down into the earth to hide for a bit. A way to protect myself from this hard thing we call life.
But there’s more. I know there is more.
I am a fighter. I am strong. I am a protector. When I am scared or startled I also face the world with my fists at the ready. For better or worse.
Seven miles into a 12-mile run and I am focused on my breathing. My rhythm. And perhaps more importantly, I am concentrating on not letting my thoughts wander through these last few miles. I need my attention honed so that I can push and not fade. I’m laser sharp. Determined.
“Beep! BEEP! BEEEEEEEP!” Goes the horn of a car behind me. Startling me out of my own skin. I can feel my heart leap out of my chest and I instantly break out into a cold sweat. Drenching my layers immediately. I freeze and then without a thought, I throw my hands into the air. I feel as if I’m going to faint from fear. The blood drains from my legs. I am paralyzed. I have been ripped from my inner world. Yanked from my internal focus and I’m terrified. Jarred. And then, in a nanosecond, I am flooded with anger and rage!
I step from the side of the road into the middle. Smack in front of the grimy minivan who is coasting behind me and I glare at the driver. I scream, “Are you KIDDING ME?! Are you fucking kidding me? You scared the shit out of me. You don’t beep at someone on the road! You’re going to make me fall. I am going to get hurt!” I’m scanning. Assessing: Old car. Out of shape male. My age. People around. Stores on the corner. I am surveying for my safety before I react. This annoying man is no longer just a nuisance, he is my childhood predator who in an instant startled me out of innocence and raped my childhood away from me … and I am gone. Petrified. Triggered into my past.
He screams back, “I’m just trying not to hurt anyone and you’re in the middle of the road.”
“I am NOT!” I shout back. Taking him in. Looking for ways to lash out and hurt him the way I feel he hurt me. I want him to feel small and helpless as he made me feel when he honked his horn. I step closer and I slam my hands onto the hood of his car. “Please! Give me a break. You’re not worried about hurting anyone, you’re just in a rush to get your donut, Mr. Tubby! You’re not fooling me!” If I can cut below the belt, maybe, just maybe, he will be reduced to a feeling of worthlessness too. He will see his own fault. The honker who should never have beeped. The rapist who should never dared to hurt me as he did.
And with that, I dash off. Ready to kill him if he comes near me. But secretly shaking in my shoes. Feeling foolish and afraid. Knowing my behavior — in this time and space — is unwarranted.
Road rage? PTSD? Trauma survivor? Fight or Flight? My behavior is so far from my normal way of relating to the world and yet I can go there so easily when I feel triggered. When I’m frightened. When I feel like I need to protect myself. Like the flip of a light switch from off to on. Like a drug numbing the pain; it feels good to be that mean. I am my own protector and I will annihilate anyone who wrongs me.
These are not rational thoughts. No. They are a reflexive reaction; a response to trauma. To fear. To helplessness. I’m navigating helplessness these days and because of this, I am trying not to disappear. I am also trying not to throw myself in front of any more cars. Neither will take away my childhood. Or give it back. They will not right the wrong.
I wish there was no wrong to be righted. I wish Rob was not in pain. I wish I could protect him.
Living is not straight forward. Healing is not a one way path. Trauma, heartbreak, love, loss, hope, fear–all of it–make up our lives. If I disappear from myself what purpose does that serve? If I keep screaming at random people who trigger fear, how will that help me? Neither will free me from real life.
I have to keep looking for meaning in my thoughts and behaviors. I have to stay here, in my body and choose not to disappear because that is where the joy is. The deep-seated, authentic joy — where we truly recognize that living means holding a space for all of it. All of it.
I cannot live authentically if I’m reacting to fear with rage and escape. And living my life with the quest for an explanation of why we suffer or even a hope for justice isn’t really living in the here and now. I have to keep my heart open and stay present in the moment because I fully believe that this is where I am meant to be. The rest is clutter that I need to clear out. Tangled weeds covering the flowers of joy buried just below the surface of old thoughts and responses.
I’m not sure I’m ready to fully resurface. I cannot guarantee that I won’t flip some lousy honker the bird — but I will try not to throw myself in front of the car. And I’m going to attempt to share my voice once again. I’m open to new experiences and I don’t want fear to call the shots, or my past to dictate my future.
Take good care,