This story is part of our SOS series: My friend recently wrote this blog post and I thought this experience from her life may help us all understand more about living with trauma - and help some of us understand the importance of boundaries.
Triggered Tuesday, from Deb Tuitel's Blog: Butterflies and Grace: Sharing My Journey From Shame to Hope.
Yesterday I was triggered by an idiot. I call him an old white man, but he’s probably not really that old. Maybe fifty five or sixty—and as I get closer, that’s really NOT that old. But when I say old white man, I mean the typical—well, I guess it would be more appropriate to say stereotypical—old white man.
I wasn’t having the best day anyway. I had EMDR the night before, and it sometimes takes me a few days to shake that off. I’m coming off of a pretty dark episode that lasted quite a few weeks, and it doesn’t take much to set me off.
Things are different at work right now. Because of the Coronavirus and social distancing regulations, I have a new work station. It’s in the back, past the “no customers allowed” chain. The way my desk is set up, my back is to the area where co-workers walk through. Although my hyper-vigilance is easing, having my back to approaching people isn’t ideal, but there’s a mirror on the wall in front of the desk, so I can see who is coming up behind me. Since there is a chain keeping customers out, and I trust most of my coworkers, I feel relatively at ease in my work space. “Relatively at ease” may be a stretch…but it’s doable. I’m making it.
Yesterday, this old white man came back past the chain. He’s a vendor, and has a reason and right to come past the chain. He came up behind me to ask a question, and got way too close for social distancing protocols. He gets too close for even “normal” social protocols. . . so that’s no surprise.
“Hey, I know we’re not supposed to get too close because of this virus thing,” as he’s standing inches from me. “But you’re always so nice to me and I really appreciate you.” I respond that it’s not just during the virus, but it’s too late and he’s already patting my back and my arm. I do that squirm/twist thing that we do to get away from men like this, and the incident is over.
I didn’t say anything. He didn’t hear me when I said it’s not just during the virus, and I didn’t say anything else. After all, I’m “always so nice.” And it would not be nice to tell him not to touch me. The conversation would make him feel awkward and uncomfortable. He would feel the need to explain that he doesn’t mean anything by it. And who knows what the attitude would be the next time he comes in. And the time after that. And the time after that.
But silence has a cost too, and I’m tired of paying it.
Deep breaths while I try to get my heart rate back down. I can feel tears starting in the back of my eyes, and I’m convinced they will not stop if I release them. Concentrate on my breathing while I walk to the bathroom. Breathe in, one, two, three, four. Hold it, one, two, three, four. Exhale, one, two, three, four. Smile. Walk, don’t rush. Get to the restroom. The relief I feel when I realize the door is unlocked makes me shake. I step in, close, and lock the door behind me. I try to relax as I lean against the door.
I’m angry. But the anger is at myself for what I feel is an exaggeration. It’s not his fault I have PTSD. It’s not his responsibility. Aren’t I overreacting?
I text a friend and vent for a minute. And I ask her, “When will Old White Men realize that they’re crossing boundaries?” and her response is, “they won’t realize until you say something.” Dammit. To her credit, she also reminded me “with love” that not all older white men are bad.
More deep breaths. The door clicks as I open it, and I go to talk to my boss. I explain the situation, frustrated that I can’t keep the tears at bay. I’m asked what I would like to have happen. My boss offers to call him and I decline. I say that I will talk to him next time he comes in. He offers again. They take good care of me here. I mean that in a very literal sense. I am cared for. God put me here in this job where I am supervised by people who understand grace and patience.
I don’t know what I will say. And I don’t know how I’ll say it without guilt. And I’m angry that I am in this situation. I’m pissed at my dad for making me like this. I don’t want to be like this anymore.
Damn it I was doing really well. But now I feel like I’m going backwards again.
I know what to do. I’ll talk about it with a friend. Later today, I’ll talk about it with my therapist. We’ll come up with a plan. What could I do next time…what do I say when I see him again…or do I take my boss up on his offer to make the phone call…How do I not feel ashamed when I see my boss tomorrow. How do I keep myself from minimizing it with an, “I’m sorry about Tuesday, I really was having a bad day. It’s no big deal”…. I’ll “process” this event and it will go in the file box in my head with the thousands of other incidents that I feel shame over…
Some days I just wish I could be “normal,” and merely get annoyed by these circumstances instead of outright triggered. Instead of having it move into my sleep in the form of nightmares that make me scared to rest….Sometimes I wish my life was different.
Most of the time I can “not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.” But not today. Today I would like to slam the door shut on my past and just start fresh.
This Blog has been reposted from Deb Tuitel's Blog: Butterflies and Grace: Sharing My Journey From Shame to Hope.