In therapy I was going through the night I was sexually assaulted 10 years ago. We were trying to reframe the event and give me what I needed at that moment to feel safe again (very cool concept). I left that night, 10 years ago, traumatized and never felt comfort after. I’ve been living in a state of trauma since. Living with PTSD, flashbacks, nightmares of that moment and childhood abuse memories it triggered. I needed to remember the exact moment where I knew something was not right during this therapy exercise . So I went through the scenario of walking in through the door of his garage and seeing him and I thought that the exact moment I knew something was wrong was when he instructed me to sit down. So we went through the therapy process of helping me through that moment…It wasn’t working. So we backtracked. Was that moment, the EXACT moment I knew something was wrong? So I walked through it again. In slow mo like watching a movie. I opened the door. I looked to the right, to the left, and I saw a gun leaning against the door frame. THAT was the moment. My brain discounted it. My brain just ignored it. My brain used an eraser on a a dry erase board and just wiped that off of the event. But that moment mattered. The very next moment, I saw his eyes. I really knew something was not quite right. But I kept entering the garage looking for my friend at which point he instructed me to sit down…It was too late by then. By the time I sat down and felt that sinking moment of despair, he already had me.
This post has nothing to do with regret. I absolutely could not have changed the things that happened in those moments on that night 10 years ago. Our brains are not conditioned to take in every single thing out of place, put it into an equation, and then act on it right in the moment. At that very moment I was thinking only of finding my friend. I was there to get my friend to come back to my house and help my dog who had been ripped up by another dog. I was crying because my dog was bloodied and injured. The only thing on my mind was my dog. So when I stepped into that garage, I saw the gun, and I saw his eyes, but none of that registered. They do now. My intuition remembered it now so it must have somewhere known it then. My intuition knew the moment that I had a signal that this was not going to end well. He had given other signals long before. But they caught me off guard and I dismissed them. My intuition…that point was moot…I entered that garage stuck in my own head and not aware at all of the many red flags that could have saved me from everything that happened. But like I said, this is not about regret, it is just about my current awareness of the situation as it unfolded back then. I will go through it moment by moment in therapy to heal the wounded parts of me. Going through it I will have revelations that I would like to share, like this one.
Therapy reminded me of a book my husband gave me a very long time ago. It was called The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker. I wish I had finished his book all those years ago. I started reading it and it reminded me of the trauma I had been through, so I didn’t finish it. It can be very triggering but if you can make it through those parts, it has some valuable lessons. I wish I had read it 3 or 4 times. Not all trauma can be prevented obviously, but his book talks about warning signs that we dismiss. It talks about listening to your intuition and not being worried about what someone else may think about that choice. An example was an elevator and a woman getting on it when there is a man in it that she feels uncomfortable with (totally paraphrasing here, I read this 15 years ago). Women don’t want someone to think they are a bitch so they step on the elevator. Instead of listening to that feeling in the gut that was a warning, that feeling got dismissed so that some guy we will never meet again won’t judge us. When getting into that elevator could result in a rape. I need to reread the book obviously. But for some reason as I was in therapy I thought about this book. I thought, had my intuition been completely intact, I would have closed the door, not walked through it in that garage that night!
Abuse victims have their intuition stomped out. After a childhood of having my intuition irrelevant, I lost it. Over the years, I felt I had rekindled my intuition. I felt after I had a daughter of my own that my intuition to protect her would also be enough to protect me. I was wrong. I believe intuition is like a flower. It needs sun, water, and good soil. If you leave it in a dark closet, then it will die. Intuition needs to be fed daily with a conscious decision to listen to our voice.
Intuition HAS to be listened to. That means you have to be aware. You have to be present. You have to strip away a person’s title, job, uniform, PHD, and never make an excuse for something your gut has told you is inappropriate. No one gets the green light of safety just because they are deemed an authority figure, a deacon in the church, or because they are the greatest uncle Jo on earth. You are not “safe” behind church doors. You are not “safe” alone with your favorite grandpa. When you think that a certain person or a certain place means you don’t have to have intuition then your guard is gone and there is no safety net. I am not saying church cannot be safe, or that your favorite uncle cannot be safe. I am saying you cannot assume it always will be if that means you are not listening to your intuition.
3 years before I was assaulted, the same man looked at my 7 year old daughter with her new glasses and said she looked “sexy”. My 7 year old. Sexy. Somewhere in my brain I KNEW this was a red flag. But I completely dismissed it as habit from my own childhood. My own childhood confused my intuition. It is truly by the grace of God that nothing happened to my daughter at the hands of this man. So just like Gavin Debecker’s book….I stepped into the garage and instead of NOTICING and LISTENING to my intuition when I saw the gun and his eyes, I did not listen to that fear. I was numb. PTSD makes you numb. Makes you freeze. But what if it didn’t. Is it possible that an abuse victim can see the signs and in that moment avoid assault? I can’t go there for the past. I can’t change what happened to me. I can’t beat myself up for not noticing warning signs. Therapy just got me to thinking. What if, before the freeze moment, I were able to change the story. Ponderings from a PTSD individual desperate to never experience abuse again and prevent those numbing moments! I am not “what-if-ing” the past, I am “what-if-ing” the future.
In therapy, we changed that moment I stepped into the garage. I never stepped in. I opened the door and after seeing the gun and his eyes, I stepped back outside, closed the door, and a tornado swept him and his garage away. End of story! My body needed to feel an outcome that was different than what actually happened. So we changed the dialogue and the scene for my body so it could feel safe. It was a really cool therapy experience.
I think all abuse survivors need their assailants to pay for this therapy! They just walk away and like this guy, literally sail away into the sunset. He should be paying for my weekly therapy sessions! Instead he is on his 100,000 dollar boat with his PhD and teaching students at the University of Florida. Yeah, that favorite Professor you have, he is NOT safe. He does NOT get the green light. No one does. He does not get a green light pass because of his title.
We cannot walk around in fear all the time can we? We cannot worry that around every corner there could be a pedophile like my mother said…I mean, how could she know around every tree there could be a pedophile? Her defense. But this is not walking around in fear. This is about being aware, listening when there is fear, listening to your intuition, and in my mother’s case, using common sense not to send your 11 year old to clean her ski coaches house for him!!!!!! What a surprise. Was it? Was it such a surprise that a man who asked to have your little girl alone in his house, ended up molesting her? My mom thinks I blame her. I don’t. There is a difference in blame and accountability. I ask her to be accountable. My childhood abuse WAS preventable. She just had to look for the signs, the signals. I wish she would have watched me around him. I wish she could have seen…but again, this is not about regret. I cannot change my mother’s inability to see an abusers signs or her inability to see her daughter’s suffering, or her choice to leave me when she heard the truth. I can just use this as lesson to other parents so that they may make better choices.
You may have had abuse in the past. You may not have been able to control the situation or get out of the situation. I couldn’t when I was a little girl. I couldn’t when I was 35 years old in a garage with a well known, well respected college professor.
Back to the Gavin de Becker book and me being in the garage. After the initial moment of freeze, dissociation, numbing affect of the scenario, fear spoke to me and I listened. I missed the initial red flags and signals. BUT I knew I had to do what he said. I knew that I had to comply. Then I knew the moment I had to RUN. Fear paralyzed me. And fear was a gift because it saved me. I curse the after affects of PTSD and the fear that has no purpose. But in that moment in the garage, fear saved me.
So if fear means you don’t hug your best friend’s husband, if intuition means you don’t hug uncle jo, if something in your gut tells you not to leave your little boy with the babysitter….LISTEN and ACT on that. If something about the plumber installing your dishwasher makes you uncomfortable, if the man in line behind you makes your hair stand up, if the person at your front door you hired to install your cabinets all of a sudden gives you a sinking feeling in your chest….LISTEN and ACT. You don’t owe them. You owe yourself. So many times we don’t have the opportunity to protect ourselves. But there are times in life when we absolutely can. Don’t drop your child’s off with the babysitter, walk outside away from the plumber, don’t open your door to the cabinet installer. You can say no. You can say no. You can say no. The world will not end. Their hurt feelings have no impact on what is really important. The signals that will keep you safe, listen to them. YES watch for predators around every tree and around every corner. Don’t live in fear but listen to the fear when it comes. Fear saved my life. It told me that this man in the garage would most likely kill me then kill himself. Fear told me to run at the perfect time. Or maybe that was God.