I am a pretty cautious person by nature, despite how it might seem, when it comes to protecting myself emotionally. I think everyone has those triggers that put them mentally in an unhealthy place that they want to avoid. I do everything I can to keep myself from those situations. I've done what I can to help myself heal from things that have hurt me in the past and by and large I feel like I am well adjusted given my fairly chaotic and occasionally awful past. And yet, there are days when it seems the past is inescapable and you find that you are much more vulnerable than you imagined you could be.
Let's rewind for a moment to about four or five months ago. I was just starting to work as a server at The Diner. Or, at least, I was finally comfortable enough with my surroundings that I didn't feel like every weekend was a battle. Its then that I first noticed this nice, quiet guy who read books and sat by himself. He came in every Saturday. He seemed nice enough. I noticed him enough that he eventually became That Nice Quiet Book-Reading Guy Who Always Orders a Breakfast Special (Take Three Creams with the Coffee). We would chat occasionally and I discovered he was an interesting person. He liked the outdoors. He seemed pretty well rounded. About two months ago I found out he's an Arborist. He then became (in all my references to Kitten when talking about work) That Nice Arborist Who Comes In On Saturdays and Reads. By luck or design he started landing in my section more often. It was then that I discovered two things 1- he does just about everything from play instruments to rock climbing to reading, in general that he is a person whom I would like to hang out with. 2- His name. We'll call him Jack here (short for Lumberjack, or Jack of all trades, you chose).
So I happened to have an extra ticket to the symphony this last weekend and I invited Jack along. I was both pleased and surprised when he said yes. Sakura and I go (well we try) every month. He has season tickets and I am almost always his date. Anyway, we went, we had dinner, Jack met Kitten and Sakura and things were nice.
Cue Sunday. Without airing Jack's dirty laundry I can say with a fair amount of certainty that he has, in most people's eyes, a personal history that would make him predisposed to dislike me. That he was not only comfortable but gracious and very open with me and my strange little family speaks to his strength of character, I think. I know, without him telling me, that he was putting himself out there when he joined us on Saturday. I took it as a compliment. Imagine my surprise when that morning when he was in eating breakfast that he invited me to come watch him play his instrument at his church that Sunday night. Once again, I'll reiterate that his character already shames mine because I don't know if I would be able to ask him to come, I don't know, watch me sing or read my writing or whatever. Not this early in our tentative friendship. Not especially considering those extenuating circumstances with would bother me considerably were I him. He was even kind enough to point out he was not proselytizing in inviting me- proving he was intuitive enough (or I scream NOT CHRISTIAN loudly enough) to see that might be something of a deterrent to me. Even though, once he gets to know me better, he'll understand that I really don't mind most Christians, or the religion itself, really. Its just not my cup of tea, and we've already discussed here my philosophical disagreements with the religion- I won't rehash it.)
What he couldn't know (and what some of you who have been around for some time will recall ) is that I was sexually assaulted by my Pastor's son and some of his friends when I was a teenager. The resulting damage to my person, and my mental health and all of the horrible things that came after that when I foolishly sought help from my pastor, thinking he would do the right thing and want to help me (I was really, really naive) have had a profound effect on me as a person. He wouldn't know about the years of therapy. The drugs. The attempts on my own life. My blatant disregard for my own health and safety. My lack of personal value. The number or horrible relationships I ended up in that mirrored, in some sick way, that first really awful one. He wouldn't know this. And he shouldn't really. Because in the intervening years, as most of you are aware, I've gotten help, I've healed and in general I consider myself to be as well adjusted and happy as a person who has gone through what I did can be. I live a relatively open life. I have learned to cope with my anger and fear. I am in a successful, healthy relationship. I have friends who love and support me and help me when I feel weak. Any person who looks at me would not see those hidden scars. I don't want them to.
So imagine my surprise- after all these years of being well adjusted and happy- at finding myself in the parking lot of his church Sunday night, sitting in my truck, having an utter and complete panic attack. I never even saw it coming. You know, it occurred to me as I pulled in that outside of three funerals, one wedding and a couple of Midnight Masses at Christmas (and honestly, a Catholic church is a completely different animal from a tiny protestant church) I have not set foot inside a church building since the incident as a teenager. I certainly have not been to any church without having someone whom I might consider a security blanket with me. So there I was, sitting there, feeling one hundred percent out of sorts and a little bit terrified, trying desperately to talk myself off that panic ledge. I remember telling myself how big a step it must have been for Jack to be with my family. I remember telling myself that I could be a big person. I remember telling myself that I was not going to punk out. I was already there.
And honestly, as I sat there, I reminded myself that I am different now. I know who I am. I am stronger. I am braver. I know how to protect myself. As a priestess I speak with god more often than most of these people would ever in their lives. I never thought the day would come when my being a witch would be the thing that made me brave enough to walk into a church. But it was. If I can hear the voice of god, if the goddess comes to me in my dreams, if my Grandfather and Great Grandmother and all my sacred dead can sing me to sleep on my worst nights, there was really no reason I should be worried that they would not be there for me in that moment. And so I got out of my truck.
And Jack, thank god and goddess, came out of the church just then to get something out of his truck. And he spotted me. And promptly commented on how terrified I looked. Bless his heart, he asked me if I was afraid of combusting or being struck down by god when I went inside and he laughed. I managed a smile and told him with complete honestly that I was fine with God, it was his followers that had me anxious. Bless his heart, he put his hand on me and led me in and let me sit down and I could tell he felt bad when he had to go do other things. But he did come back, and when he wasn't playing he did sit with me. I felt bad about that, really, because I feel like he was babysitting me. I know he had people he probably would rather have been with.
Did you know that all churches smell the same? I swear they do, though I didn't recognize it until now. The voices sound the same. Its like the same picture, over and over, no matter where you are. I find it ironic. The sounds are the same. The church may be different- they may see themselves as completely unique- but I swear I had been to so many before...well, before. And it doesn't look like things have changed. Which is fine for them, of course, but for me was immensely uncomfortable.
I want to say this- Jack played beautifully and I am really glad I went. I really am. I might even go again because honestly, now that I am seeing my own fear I feel like I should face it. And it wasn't so bad really, even if I am on a different page spiritually. Their pastor is really, really nice. That said, I spent a lot of the evening jumping every time there was lightening (because of course there was a storm rolling in), twisting my rain jacket in my hands in an attempt to look like I was merely chilly and not fighting the impulse to white knuckle the seats (I was not leaving!) and struggling desperately to turn off my "witch eyes" which had suddenly decided to light up like The Plaza at Christmas (let me tell you how fun it is to be seeing auras and sensing emotions and have your psychic mail box go off while you're trying to focus on something else entirely.) Obviously something about the place or the situation put me in an Alpha state, which is great. Unfortunately, I was trying to torch my own personal demons.
I think I tripped over my own feet three times in the ten yards to the door (thank the lord that everyone already knows how clumsy I am). I managed to get out of the parking lot and home without wrecking my truck. I only had a little cry after I got into bed. I managed a whole night without nighmares, though, and that's got to count for something.
I suppose I am stuck in a strange place feeling like I am really weak because I had such a crushing panic attack and being proud that I got through it. I'm still sorting out how I feel. I am still trying to sift through the emotions I had and the ones I have now. I'm trying to give myself space and think about the whys and wherefores of a building being a trigger. I can't punish myself for it. I know that. But I feel disappointed in myself. I thought I was stronger.
Kitten says I am being unreasonable. That when traumatic things happen to us that we never really truly recover from them. I would never judge her for reacting to fire the way she does. I would never condemn a person who struggles with an eating disorder or addiction or any other thing that even slightly suggests less than sterling mental health. She's right, I wouldn't.
Is it wrong that I hold myself to a higher standard? Maybe, but it doesn't mean I don't.