When I was about 10 or 11 years old, I had a neighbor lady who sold Avon & also worked at the post office. I used to babysit her kids once in a while.
One day on my usual route after school, I went to the post office to pick up the mail from Box 169. As soon as I pulled the heavy door open, I could feel a chill in the air. I opened my mailbox & found the familiar yellow card that meant there was a bigger package behind the counter. As I put the yellow card on the counter the lady said to me, “Samantha! I need to talk to you”. I could feel the icy-ness dripping from her words in an accusatory tone.
As I swallowed the scared lump rising into my throat; I said, timidly, “Okayyy”.
She then proceeded to tell me that she had a large bag of Avon makeup in her living room closet that was now gone and there had only been 3 people in her house that week and I was one of them.
I felt the blood drain from my body and my knees grew weak. I felt a dark tight tunnel closing in around me. I stood there completely aghast & speechless.
What I now know, is that I was experiencing the flight or fight syndrome, as I talked about in my previous post The Addicts Plea.
So here I am, an 11-year-old girl, alone with a significant adult in the community who had a certain power (to gossip) trying to defend myself with zero communication skills. And even less conflict resolution skills (I still lack).
So what did I do? I chose the only thing I knew – escape!
I ran! I ran the two blocks home in utter terror.
I got home, ran up to my room and fell into my bed in tears. I was caught completely off guard & thoroughly embarrassed that I was thought of as a thief and of course the whole town would know.
In her eyes of course, my fleeing meant guilt. I think I kind of remember a phone call after that but I don’t remember anyone ever talking to me about it. If there ever was a phone call, I’m sure my mother told her right where she could go & how to get there.
All I know Is that, of course, I never babysat again and I avoided the post office when she was in there.
This event was so traumatic to me that I found myself questioning if maybe I had taken it! Surely an adult as powerful as her wouldn’t accuse me if she didn’t have good reason. My un-experienced brain just couldn’t process that without some guidance, which I didn’t get.
But what my brain DID process was:
- People can & will turn on you- no matter what (trust issues)
- I must be over vigilant in proving that I’m doing nothing wrong (paranoia/ over compensate)
- When someone does turn on you, there’s no going back. Sorry isn’t good enough because you will never be believed (avoidance/shame / unforgivable)
- Not to trust myself
Call this unresolved issues, and baggage -40 year old white Avon baggage! It wouldn’t be the last time I flee-ed an uncomfortable situation. As a result, I have tread lightly with people and relationships. Of course every negative experience adds to this internal map we all have and the stories we tell ourselves about that map.
With me, the overwhelming fear of not knowing what I’ve done wrong mixed with the confusion of wondering if maybe I am a bad person and I just don’t realize it! Otherwise, why would this nice (or powerful or beautiful- insert any word you want) person be accusing ME of it?
The lasting residual of events such as this, with most relationships; is to gain control BEFORE they turn on me- lash out- even subconsciously- before they have a chance to. Going cold is another defense mechanism.
People wouldn’t really call my experience a trauma in the context of traumas, but it is to me.
So if I meet a woman in a position of power; and I am standoffish, or I feel unequal to her- so why even try- this may be a reason. And I absolutely despise getting in trouble. Even with strangers. Because I know my intent was never to do what they are accusing me of.
We just don’t know why people choose the things they do.
We don’t know why people act insecure or boastful or scared. I’m starting to see that what we see as poor choices or weird is maybe what kept them alive in the moment! Maybe it was self preservation!
In the case of choosing substances, of course, they never, ever anticipated the consequences to be so bad. But the choice at the time was what helped them through whatever they were dealing with.
My fav Instagram recovery & homeless advocate explains it wonderfully.
If you’ve known me for a while now, you’ll have heard me talk about how my drug use played a huge part in saving me from dying by suicide as a teen and a young woman. In a perfect world I would’ve had different tools, different support systems, and hell… I would’ve had a different life entirely. But we don’t live in a perfect world and so all responses, even imperfect ones are valid.
Sometimes self destruction and self preservation can look almost identical from the outside. Chaotic drug use can also serve as the only inner calm that a person who’s consumed with trauma or existing in traumatic circumstances may be able to access at the time.
Don’t assume that you know what internal battles a person is fighting.
Sometimes what you see as “the problem” is actually “the solution” for that moment. Sometimes what you view as disordered is actually the very behavior that is helping them maintain order as they navigate pain that you know nothing about.
I have come to believe that is why my son stays stuck. Avoidance is his trauma response. The trauma of losing his dream business, his family, his livelihood- everything that humans hold dear-has created an avoidance response. In order to protect himself, he has cut himself off from caring.
Once in a while it will peak out, like a child grounded to his room for throwing a fit; to see if its safe to come out. Is everyone still mad at me? If it doesn’t feel safe, back in he goes, like a turtle hiding under his shell. My sons shell is drugs. He’s isolated himself to that world and the people who do love him are stuck in their own trauma & pain of the situation.
This is why family recovery is so important. To place all the work on the person with the damaged brain & zero resources or coping skills seems ridiculous. But that’s what most families do. “Don’t contact me until your sober”, is the mantra.
My son is very ill. Yes, recovery has to be his choice, no one can make it for him. But the environment to recover in, can’t be overlooked either. Jail really isn’t ideal, & on the street in the chaos of trying to fill basic needs doesn’t seem to work either. I pray for all suffering that we can find our own safe place in which to heal.