I’ve been going over this scenario in my mind. Rolling it over and over and trying to make sense of the aftermath. Not all things can be made sense of. Sometimes I think that if I overthink it enough, I can come to a brilliant solution, resolution, to the baffling psychological maze that is created after a trauma. The fault in my thinking is, there is not always an answer to every equation. In math, maybe. Two times three equals six. But what if three turned into forty-three and then switched back, and then nine stomped on three, and then the other three ran away, and then the equal sign turned into a negative sign? Trauma is just like that, and not just as simple as two times three equals six. Because two (me) times three (abuser) equals six (trauma). That leaves my answer as trauma. I want my answer to be resolved, or settled, or fixed, or overcome. It just isn’t clear! And my mind is a two-times-three-equals-six kind of mind. So when I roll around a scenario that doesn’t end with a definitive answer, I get more and more frustrated with the end result. I confronted the man who abused me, and it didn’t equal what I thought.
I ran into the man who held me in his garage against my will a few months after it happened. I saw him in the grocery store. I immediately felt fear. I had a panic response that was pretty obvious: I was sweating and shaky, and I felt faint. I had dreamed of a moment when I could face him again on my terms. I had reviewed the exact words I would say and played out in my mind how I would feel after I faced him.
But I felt panicked. So I went all stealth mode. I creeped around the corners of the isles following him. I thought I’d lost him a few times, but he popped up again in the veggie aisle. I had a cart full of groceries. I lost my nerve in the cheese section. I thought, what on Earth am I doing here, I can’t do this, and with that I lost the panicky feeling and just slowly walked through the bakery section. As I went to check out, there he was. Right there putting his lettuce on the check out. My heart was pounding, just as it is right now typing this. I remember this pounding in my ears as I stared at him deciding what to do.
I pushed my cart up behind him, walked around my cart, and stood two inches from the man who had traumatized me. He wasn’t so scary standing there with his lettuce and basket of food. A rage came over me that I had never felt before and have never felt again since. Everything around me disappeared and it was just him and me, my heart pounding in my ears, blood rushing to my head so much my fingers were tingly.
I announced to him and the entire grocery store that he was a sex offender. I started yelling, detailing all the things that he had done. My well thought out plan went out the window as soon as the rage set in and things started just flying out of my mouth. I had my finger in his face shaking it at him. He walked backward into a wall, and I continued yelling at him.
Rage is a strange emotion. It does weird things to the body and the brain, it really does. I felt it hard to breathe. My voice, I could hear it, shook. He told me that I had to forgive him and that I was a good girl who shouldn’t say things like this, which just infuriated me more. The next thing I knew, he had slithered his way around the corner and was doing his best to run to the car (he couldn’t actually run due to his post-polio, an excuse he used repeatedly for the reason he did what he did to me).
Well…what does one do after screaming for five minutes at a man in a grocery store after he runs away? I just stood there. Then I almost passed out. I can’t remember if I sat down because everything around me disappeared again. I’m pretty sure I was gone from myself at that point. Then a man stepped up and asked if I was okay. I don’t know if I answered. But I asked if he could please put my groceries back for me. I don’t even remember driving home.
For weeks, even months, after that, when my husband and I went to the grocery store we would see his car as we pulled in. As soon as he saw us he left. Then as we were driving home we would see his car waiting on the side of the road, then pulling back into the store as soon as he knew we were gone. The man was afraid I’d scream at him again, I suppose, so he didn’t go in the store if he saw me. I can’t believe he even went back to the same store.
You’d think I would feel some sort of victory. I don’t.
I had this idea in my mind that if I stood up to this man, I would face my fear. If I stood up to him, I would show him that I was strong. If I confronted him, he would know how pathetic I thought he was. And maybe he did see those things. I played it in my mind, though, with an end result being marked “resolved” with a huge red pen. Case closed. Victim stands up to abuser, victory for all! So why was I still left with a sick feeling in my stomach? Why, after ten years, does thinking of him make me feel nauseous? Why does writing about it now make me feel faint? I thought that facing this abuser would fix everything. I thought the equation would end with a definite answer, and that answer would mean that somehow I would feel like a winner. I would feel I defeated a monster.
In the end, I won. But I didn’t feel that way. I don’t feel that way. I am amazed at the strength I had to face him. And I did learn that I had a rage inside me that I didn’t even know existed. But until now I did not have an answer to why I didn’t feel better after confronting him.
Here is the problem with my original equation…two (me) times three (abuser) equals six (trauma). I thought that after the trauma I could create another equation that erased the trauma all together. I thought it could be two (me) times three (abuser) equals six (victory). But I left out the trauma. The trauma happened. Facing him, yelling at him, didn’t take away the trauma. The only way I can try to “fix” this is changing the equation altogether, so that one (me) plus two (abuser) plus two ( trauma) plus one (choices I make to move towards recovery) equals six (healing). With trauma, sometimes three times two doesn’t equal six. With trauma, nothing is as it should be. There should be no trauma in the equation. The equation pretty much got scribbled all over soon after the first number was written. I cannot “fix” in my mind what was scribbled over by someone else. I cannot erase it. I can only reframe it in a way that includes healing.
Even if I face my abusers, have them put in jail, shout out to the world that they are pedophiles, sex offenders, etc., I am still left with me. I am still left with what they did to me. I am left with the memories, nightmares, and flashbacks. He could be sitting in jail right now, which is where he should be, and I would still be left with me. Even if all the justice in the world came to fruition, all the wrongs were righted, all the people who betrayed me miraculously did the right thing, I would still be left healing from the trauma. I’m not sure what my final equation will be. I am not sure which steps or direction or path will be the one that equals peace for me. But I will keep trying.
Someone asked me recently if I would want my abuser killed or tortured, and I don’t. (Okay, maybe a quick punch to the face…but that’s all). Ironically, during my rage at this man, I tried to will myself to punch him in the face, but he had glasses on, and somehow, I don’t know, I just didn’t. That is not who I am. I am not violent. I am not vengeful. I have no desire to hurt anyone. Now, I understand why. It doesn’t have to do with them anymore. Focusing on them just takes me down a road that ends in victim. I’ve already been there. I cannot erase them, nor will I deny feelings that come up about them. I can only change my purpose. Focusing on me takes me down a road that ends in survivor. It’s the only equation that makes sense to me now.
[Photo credit to Riley Kays]
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