A lot has been going on in my life in the past week and a half. I’ve had a lot of revelations about myself, and I’m coming to a conclusion that I’m okay. Maybe better than okay.
First there was the idea last week that I have an area in my life where I’m emotionally healthy. I stated last week that I wasn’t sure where the butterfly effect of that realization was going to take me. Then I had the reading at the art show “Finding Our Voices” for Sexual Assault Awareness Month in my city. That went very well, I got a lot of positive comments on my piece after the reading.
Finally, yesterday something happened that made me realize, again, I might have more emotional health than I gave myself credit for before.
I was in the grocery store, shopping, when I was accosted by a young (18 to 22 range) man panhandling. Now, I’ve never had this happen IN the store before, so it was odd to begin with. Also, when I looked at him, I could tell that he was either on drugs, or coming down hard from drugs.* I told him I didn’t have any money, and that’s when things started to go bad. He stepped nearer to me after I said no, and he was close enough to touch me to begin with. I automatically stepped back, and managed to put the cart between us, even as he was asking, “Are you sure? Not even a couple of bucks?”
I calmly replied, “Yes, I’m sure. I don’t have any money. Please leave.” He looked at me a bit longer, seemed like he was going to come closer again, and at that moment somebody walked past the end of the aisle. He saw that, turned around and left.
I immediately found a store employee, described what had happened and gave a description of the man, and they found him and escorted him out of the store. When I was ready to leave the store, they had an employee help me with my groceries to make sure he wasn’t still outside or wanting to mess with me more.
When I got home, of course, I had the whole gamut of reactions one gets at a time like that. The feeling of terror, the thoughts of how bad that could have gone, the feelings of intense relief that it went as well as it did, the physical shaking as the adrenaline rush that had carried me through finishing shopping and driving home finally ended.
It was much later when I realized I had not acted like a victem. I didn’t freeze, I didn’t just give him money even when he was trying to intimidate me. As he was stepping into me, I stepped away from him and put a physical object between us. I calmly told him to leave. And afterward, instead of thinking that I’d somehow brought this on myself and that I shouldn’t tell anybody, I immediately sought out a person who had authority to kick him out, and reported what had happened.
Would this have happened like this if I’d not had the realization I had a week ago? I don’t know. What I do know is that my reaction to this incident is different than it’s ever been in situations like this before. Before, I’d blame myself for somehow deserving it, I’d castigate myself no matter how well I handled the whole situation.
Just like the saying of the butterfly’s wings beating starts the chain reaction that causes the tsunami on the other side of the world, last week’s realization of health caused a chain reaction that is evident to me and those who know me right now.
I didn’t blame myself for the incident.
I took appropriate steps to keep myself safe.
I didn’t freeze with the fear I was feeling.
I reported the incident afterwards, and took further appropriate steps to keep myself safe.
And even after it was all over, I still haven’t blamed myself for the incident.
For me, this is a major step.
*I used to work for a substance abuse counselor for 3 years. I’ve seen people who have come to the office for their group sessions drunk, high, coming off a high, and sober.