There are times that we choose pain and times that pain chooses us. When we’re chosen, it’s easy to feel victimized, and we are. But to heal, I believe, one needs to find the gift within the pain.
Being open to pain’s healing is like having a gift that keeps on giving. I was recently elevated out of a childhood pain of parental abandonment. One of those low-grade emotional conditions that you just live with and may not even name as pain. Instead, you may live in avoidance of its squeeze.
Avoiding pain’s squeeze, unfortunately and inevitably, catches up to you.
I met a man about a year ago at a favorite cafe whom I felt uncomfortable around. You know that feeling when your gut churns, your eyes squint, and you take a step back. Through the past year he was a regular customer, so I put a polite smile on my face and gave him the benefit of my doubt.
Well, I will be more trusting of my gut’s instinct moving forward.
While my boyfriend, Anthony, was chatting with someone else one evening, this man leaned into my breathing space and started asking questions about my fitness. He quickly shifted his commentary to my sexy, sophisticated, presence. The most beautiful in the cafe.
If this were my boyfriend whispering these intimacies, I would lean into his love and devotion. But, in this case it felt over-indulgent and self-serving. My brain froze. No words came to change the course of this man’s momentum.
As I shift uncomfortably in my seat, he slides his hand up my side and cops a feel of my right breast. A blatant uninvited intrusion of my space, body and relationship with Anthony, disguised in a gesture to steady me on the bar stool. But, let’s be clear, I needed no steadying.
Rather than stating my boundaries, all I could do was excuse myself. I moved to the other end of the bar until he left.
This moment of freezing is scary. It’s the same freeze that happened repeatedly in my childhood when my father inappropriately came into my bedroom at night. I felt, and feel, helpless, alone and terrified in these moments.
Different than my childhood story, in my adult story, the freeze is what scares me. This man’s conduct was inappropriate, but not threatening my safety. In these situation it’s easy to dismiss creepy disrespect, and instead, judge my muted self-respect.
I shared the incident with a woman who, unbeknownst to me, had had a similar altercation with this man. The story spread and an owner/bartender heard the report. My next visit there, my boyfriend held an outdoor table for us, because the man was inside at the bar.
What happened next blew my mind!
The bartender came out and confirmed the story. As it was told to me afterward, he returned inside and slid the man’s check in front of him. The man slid it back to him saying, he didn’t ask for a check. It was slid back in the man’s direction again and this time paid.
When the man exited the cafe I jumped up, now unfrozen and prepared, to tell him that he’d made me uncomfortable and set a clear boundary. But that’s not what happened!
The bartender followed him out and stopped him just outside the cafe’s dining area.
The man was asked to not return.
Soon after the bartender returned to his post at the bar, a gentleman friend stuck his head out the door and said, “There’s a seat in here for you Tammy.” When we went inside, a group of people ushered me into a love cocoon. I felt treasured.
I was stood up for, protected and loved by all of them. I was offered the cocoon my family of origin couldn’t offer.
I say to the woman, who had had the same experience, that I was intending to speak to the man and practice standing up for myself. She said, “I understand that, but can you accept being stood up for and feel safety from that?”
My whole life has been about developing mind body strength. It has served me well. But the self respect, love and trust gained by this strength isn’t to separate me from the respect, love and trust of others.
The pain I carry around from my childhood was just made lighter by letting others in. Not by becoming more independent and self-entrusted. I’m learning that it also takes strength to depend on others and trust they’ll be there. I am healing and I treasure these moments pain has constructed and amplified.
I would love to hear from others who have lived with a similar ‘freeze’ response to disrespect.