Sunday, August 16, 2015

Face to face with my buried fear (*trigger warning*)

Just over a month ago my daughter was attacked in class my a classmate. The attack wasn't a verbal assault or a violent spray of words, it was a physical attack that happened while she was sitting down at a table. While Bee was squeezed in between the table and a chair, her attacker came up from behind, put her in a headlock, grabbed her pony tail and yanked it violently while shouting at her. Bee, who's had martial arts training, realized that even though she was basically stuck and threatened odds were that her reacting would probably escalate things so she remained passive waiting for the attack to stop. When she was let go, she immediately left the classroom and headed for the deputy principal's office where she broke down in tears.

Her attacker was another girl, a former best friend, that has focused all her rage on Bee for some reason.

As you can perhaps imagine things swung into action at the school. As you can perhaps imagine I swung into action as well, making sure Bee is seeing a counselor at the school and also lining up a psychologist out of school for her so that she can work through the heightened fear and anxiety, and anger, that the attack has left her with. I have so much respect for how Bee is dealing with it all; being 17 years old and being attacked in front of the class is humiliating, and shame likes to sneak up and try to take a hold after something like that.

We have put things in place. We have a strategy. We talk a lot about of Bee feels every day. I think we're on the right track.

What I didn't count on in all this was my own reaction. It was suddenly also about me.

It started with a colleague at work (who's more like a friend really) starting to "ping" me about my mood. I was doing fine, being "happy" and productive, getting things done and generally kicking arse but he kept asking me if I was OK and when I asked him why (eventually) he told me I looked like I was going to "burst a vein" which was his way of saying I looked like I was under a lot of pressure. It took three weeks of him doing that before I hiked off to my therapist with nothing more than "apparently I look like I'm about to burst a vein".

My therapist, who is a great fit for me and whom I credit with helping me kill anxiety and depression dead in less than a year, did what he usually does: he created a safe space for me to talk (like a wizard!) and to realize what was happening. It was buried so deep in me, and it happened so long ago, that I very nearly didn't acknowledge its importance. The attack on my daughter had triggered post traumatic stress in me and I found myself face to face with my own buried fear. When my colleague had told me that I looked like I was going to burst a vein, to me when I sat there on the therapist's sofa, he was describing the pressure I had to apply to still keep the memories, the shame and the fear contained like I had been for years.

They say that when it comes to opposite sex interaction men fear being laughed at by a woman the most while women fear being killed by a man the most. Unfortunately in my case it rings all too true.

Before anyone jumps on me and tells me not all men are like that I have to say that in my mind all men have the potential to be like that because that's what trauma has taught me. I navigate a world in which men, until having proved to me that they don't possess those traits, are prone to angry outbursts and physical violence for no particular reason. Until they can show that they're aware of their own emotions and can control their own responses to them I keep my distance. I have lived with the shame of being a domestic violence victim for over two decades and as much as I wish I could just "get over it" men will probably always be a threat to me. I'm sorry to say, they're guilty until proven safe in my mind.

I still have a huge problem with men's hands. Men's hands are not sensual instruments of love making to me. Men's hands have the potential to leave bruises, punch holes in walls and, oh my god and, wrap themselves around my neck and restrict my breathing until all I can think about is how to survive the next second. The angry, threatening words spat in my face or the hard breaths hitting my face that accompanies them, and that are really nothing more than fumes of alcohol, is the nothingness that I suddenly don't have any room for in my mind because all there was was the next second of survival. To me having a wall behind me with my back touching it and a man close in front of me is a sign that things are about to go bad and it matters not one iota what he's doing. He's been cast in a role he's not even aware exists and he's a huge threat to me.

So, I have post traumatic stress to deal with and like all things that come out of trauma shame likes to come along for the ride. You may or may not be a fan of Brené Brown's work but she nails it when it comes to shame, and she says that shame cannot survive when you speak of it. It thrives on secrecy. So, while it's hard, while it's uncomfortable, I speak of it because I know there are others like me and I know that the more it gets out there the more men, yes men, will stand up and tell other men that they're not OK with women being scared of them because of what's been done to them.

I need it to stop. I need domestic violence to stop not matter who is the victim. Child, woman or man, it's doesn't matter, I need it to stop. I need there to be a conversation going on about it. I need it to be out in the open and I need people to get help because there are only victims in domestic violence. No one escapes unharmed when there's domestic violence. No victim, no observer, no abuser escapes unharmed when there's domestic violence.

I need it to stop and I need you to talk about it until it does, and I need you to talk about it intelligently and without blame. I need you to think about the incredible impact it has one the lives of people and our society.

I'm just saying.

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