Posts Tagged ‘flight or fight’

From Garbage Bags

October 24, 2015

To graduate school.

I was sitting in my Therapeutic Communications class and something was said about the video we had just watched, a really intense video of Nancy McWilliams demonstrating psychoanalysis with a woman who was trying to negotiate a domestic abuse situation.

It was a surreal story.

It was just an hour of therapy and so much ground got covered and the therapist was amazing, directing subtly, strengthening the client, reflecting back to her, empathizing with the client.

I got a lot out of it.

A LOT.

I also got annoyed with a fellow in my cohort who kept asking questions.

Pushing questions that, as I saw it, were serving the person asking them but then, the professor used the questions to illustrate some key points in the reading we had to do for class and also to help teach the class some really salient information about being a therapist.

We, as a class, were then invited to see how our own need for resolution may be at odds with the clients.

I remember flaring up inside when the questions were being asked and feeling that there was this well of antipathy inside me.

I got annoyed.

Then I realized that I was annoyed because if I had been that woman, if I had been that client, and the solution was to get me to see a solution immediately, I wouldn’t have been able to get there, in fact, I would have said, fuck you, fuck the therapy, and I will deal with this on my own.

In effect.

What I did do.

On my own.

With a lot of help from some close friends, I got out of an abusive relationship.

It was not physically abusive until the end.

He hit me when I broke up with him.

I ran out into the street.

In the middle of January with no socks on, a pair of jeans underneath a flannel nightgown.

Now.

For those of you that know me, this is highly unusual.

Even in the dead of winter.

Even in Wisconsin.

Even in January with below freezing temperatures.

I always, since I was about 17 and the step father moved out of the house, I always, slept in the nude.

That night.

I wore a nightgown.

Intuition.

Premonition.

I don’t know.

I can’t say.

But I did.

And when I ran shivering, scared, uncertain where to go and which direction to take.

I knew I couldn’t go running down East Johnson Street, he would find me too fast.

I ran to the Sentry Shopping Centre that was on East Washington.

I ducked along the cement walls and found my way to a pay telephone, remember those?

I called 911.

I got a response and they said they would be sending a car out to me.

That was when I heard my ex-boyfriends car.

In all actuality, our car, it was just as much mine as his, we had both bought it, an older Jetta.

I could hear it turning and I hoped it was heading toward East Johnson.

But.

It wasn’t.

And I got frantic with the operator on the phone and tried to cram myself down into that very small phone booth and make myself invisible in my flannel nightgown with corn flowers on white cotton, with a ruffled that was piped with blue ribbon, with cuffs that reminded me of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Little House on the Prairie.  I watched the car, the little blue Jetta grinding up the street, hoping against hope that he could not see me flattened against the wall of the phone booth.

I believe.

Looking back.

That was the last time I ever wore a flannel night-gown.

It’s been thirteen years since that night.

Almost fourteen.

Will be fourteen in January.

That’s when I left him.

The operator on the 911 call held me together until the police arrived to take me to a friend’s house.

I will never forget the way the lights looked wicking past the back seat window, the calls coming in over the radio, the destination never seeming further away as the sodium street lights glowed sullen in the snow, the hush of the streets, the lack of traffic, the drive around the lake on John Nolan Drive.

Then my friend’s house.

I refused to talk to the police.

I did not give up the ex-boyfriend.

I was too co-dependent.

I did not want him to get in trouble.

He got in trouble anyway, it just took a little longer.

I suppose I could have navigated it differently, but I didn’t know the difference and I didn’t know how to do it.

I do now.

But I look back at that girl, that young woman with such love and compassion, what I went through to get from there to here.

And.

How long I told myself that it was normal, that it was something that happened, that I could somehow normalize the trauma of fleeing my own home in my nightgown in January in Wisconsin.

I was isolated.

My friend, my best friend and her husband were in town visiting and they noticed it.

Another friend and her partner were in town.

They all had tried to get me to see the light at some point.

My ex-boyfriend pretty much blamed them for the timing of the break up.

He was probably right, but I did not understand how much until later.

My best friend navigated me going into work the next day to tell them I had an emergency and was leaving town for the weekend.

The plan was to get my stuff and take me up North to Hudson where I could chill out and figure out what I had to do next.

I was in shock.

My ex saw us leave my place of employment, he had been driving around Madison all night looking for me and who knows how many times he was circling the block where I worked.

He whipped into the parking lot and flew out of his car, our car.

He tried to get to me.

He tried to talk to me.

My friends were all in shock.

Then.

He spit on me.

Full on in the face.

Suddenly the guys stepped forward and corralled him.

My friends got me into the back of their car.

We pulled out burning rubber.

Two seconds later my ex got in his car and pursued.

My friend’s husband lost him after a few intersections.

We flew to my house.

I unlocked the door and having no idea what to do, I grabbed a large black garbage bag and threw random clothes into it.

I ran around my house.

My sweet little home that I had lived in, nested in, hosted Christmas dinners and Thanksgivings in, had made our home, was now an unfamiliar territory or terror and fear and I just had to get out of it.

My ex didn’t get back to the house before I left.

I was that fast.

I huddled in the back seat of my friend’s Saturn and numbly watched the landscape go by.

I remember passing a refinery and thinking how spooky and eery and utterly beautiful it was in the night with the flashing lights and the mists shimmering into the black void of sky.

I reflected on this in class.

All the memories that came up.

Then the tears.

The joy of knowing, that despite myself, for it would be another long year and a half before there was closure and ultimately, really not until I moved to San Francisco in 2002 did I get finality on the relationship (he stalked me for a year and a half and I got a restraining order that he violated once then he got to go jail and do work release through the Huber program the city had in place for inmates with work release options, two full years of restraining order and yet I saw him twice more before things were all said and done.  Ah alcoholism, how I love thee, not), I had made it out.

I made it out.

I had tears of utter gratitude and awe on my cheeks at how far I have come.

From being a woman fleeing her own home with a garbage bag full of random grabbed things.

To a fully self-supporting, radically self-reliant, strong, resilient, loving, kind, compassionate, tender-hearted woman.

From garbage to graduate school.

A small transformation.

A flowering woman in bloom.

A wide open heart.

Vulnerable and strong.

“We both were tempered by fire,” my friend told me, leaning into me in sweet confidence, “but the heat of your fire was hotter than mine, and I want you to know I acknowledge that.”

Tempered.

Strong.

Flexible.

And full of empathy and compassion.

For the client on the video screen who couldn’t get out.

And.

For myself.

The woman who did.

My life continues to unfold.

And amaze.

I am graced.

I.

Really.

Truly.

Am.

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