Experiences in life are never one dimensional. They are complex and multi-layered. They can seem simple, yet behind simplicity lies a network of understandings and misunderstandings.
We were accosted on a street we frequent, buying a few supplies. Two women tried to bar us from leaving a store, appearing out of nowhere, physically grabbing and pushing us, chasing us in hysteria, calling in the police, who proceeded to roughly go over us and our things amidst a large circle of apparently no one willing to step forward to comfort or help us. Because they were out of control, their Spanish was inaudible, but upon returning home realized they were screaming we stole their purse and wallet. After the intensity of the large gathering and hysteria calmed down, eventually we were told to get out of there by the police and we walked hand in hand, heads down, directly to another main street where we could blend in. It unexpectedly triggered a full blown PTSD response in my body and was too late to tone down its decibel due to the sudden intensity and quickness of this scenario unfolding.
As I’ve written about many times in my life, post traumatic stress response is the body triggering a well-worn neurological pathway, we all have that heads quickly towards the amygdala in the brain, shouting run or fight. When you have ptsd, in my experience, the difference between an ordinary sympathetic and parasympathetic breath-controlled response, is the inability to control it, because the brain still has many or maybe just a few of the minefields still hidden in our body, or neuro firings still “on-call” to respond immediately without anyone’s ability to control. Basically it is like a bomb goes off, not a bell from the alarm centre, so to speak.
Wow, having just finished my neurology course and feeling really good and healed, I was surprised on two accounts. One is that such an event happened and two that somewhere I must have some hidden minefields, I haven’t uncovered yet. Of course, I know it is a normal response to be “afraid” if someone is attacking you, but I am well aware of the depth of difference.
So I have decided to use my neural narration to dive in, notice all the determinants, and then speak to my layered self, to reassure, describe, understand as best as I am able, and then let go; with one added caveat, to look deductively at this unexpected minefield and de-activate it.
This all happened on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. The sun was shining. We had walked on this street many times buying things we needed in our daily life. I remember saying to Rod that it was very, very crowded and that it seemed like we were the only non-local residents today, which was unusual and is the first thing I need to make conscious.
The second thing is what triggered this minefield of trauma this time. I realized it was a sense of being physically trespassed, helplessness in myself, and terror that no one was helping us and not knowing what the outcome was going to be for Rod and myself.
It all happened so quickly. As we were coming out of a store, two very large women jumped at us, flailing their arms, screaming into our face and stepping into our space, grabbing arms, pushing and trying to restrict us. Rod got through first and then I followed not without black and blue marks on my arms. We walked quickly, they chased us, screaming while opening up a space of lies, chaos and uncertainty for everyone around us.
When I look up the word, trespass, which just happened to be the word that came to me, it says someone entering without permission. Being intruded, invaded or encroached upon. To commit an offense against another person or set of rules. And lastly, to do wrong, cause harm, offend and distress.
When these women approached us screaming then grabbing and pushing, this experience of offending, causing harm on many levels and distress triggered. I did not have the time to just breathe, I had to respond to this attack without any tools or understanding of this cultural moment. We took each other’s hands and walked briskly towards a street we knew we would be safe on, but the women ran over to the police and suddenly the two women were, once again, in our space, in front of us terrorizing me, with the police, and a large circle of people surrounding us. The second minefield trigger was helplessness. I had no idea how to be safe or know if we were. The police grabbed Rod, spread his feet, arms high and did a very rough body check and the trauma spiked for me. No one was helping us. No one was listening to us. No one was speaking to us. We were simply pulled into this tide of lies enacting itself. I was watching them, in my eyes, hurt Rod, and I was being screamed at to shut up because I was definitely crying. I had no way of knowing if they would take him away. I had no phone with me, because for such situations, I carry no wallets, purses, or cards.
Of course they found nothing but our two purchases in a bag, two receipts and the change from the transactions. They kept yelling at us for ID and wallets and purses and we had nothing. Finally, the police turned to us and said get out of here. By now, my nervous system had broken down, so Rod said hold my hand, we can do this, keep your head down, and we will walk to 5th Avenue, which we did.
PTSD is never graceful. And it is the most difficult thing to explain to anyone because it is such an overused word and because it has so many intricate parts and pieces for each of us. To say it’s over and now you are okay, on the one hand, is one fact out of many. Yes the unexpected minefield, went off, and now there are things to tend to with clarity, compassion and care because it is real.
Are we okay? Yes, Rod and I have climbed many mountains, fallen off, moved through the speed of light, arriving face down. We’ve swum rapids upstream, and sat under trees breathing to keep everything intact and in balance. We have a large toolbox of practices and deep understandings, yet, each time is the first time meaning you have to go through it.
We haven’t slept for three nights, although we’ve tried, so we’re tired, simply tired. The fight or flight of the amygdala alarm system telling us someone or something is trespassing, is long quiet. For me, it’s taken me some time to stop seeing their eyes of what? hatred? drugs? I don’t know, but eyes affect me. It’s taken me some time to accept that no one helped us, but stood back and watched. It hurt to be hurt. And lastly, it happened and now we are just recovering from being exposed and vulnerable.
We are fine on many levels and it is in my nature to reach out to someone who is struggling or in need of any help. I am rewinding the video tape in my mind to understand the moments and points of trespassing, and consider how to notice them differently and what ways we could’ve helped the situation. I think we did the right things, to not engage, give ourselves over to the process, and then leave quickly. We realized we need emergency numbers to call on Rod’s phone to call for help or translators. Done. And now, we will practice metta and tonglen in order to change trespassing and pain into well wishes for all.
Things just take time. And I realize that the word I would like to close with is not trespassing, it is too much of they and us. It is too much about someone doing something to us. And instead I would like to say: it is always good to know the ways in which to stay safe and how to protect oneself in those moments when an unexpected minefield of personal, cultural or worldwide differences explodes, because in the end, that’s all it is, one more life experience. To deactivate the chaos of differences, as best as possible, is to hold hands, keep moving forward and protect oneself from the unexpected raging waters. For me, there is nothing else to do but go through it, just as it is, with as much grace and dignity as possible. That is what life has to offer us….so many unexpected surprises in which we get the opportunity to stop, breathe and write a narrative that includes enough room for expansion and insight.
Now it is over and today is truly a new day and we are wiser for it.