Living


Brigid talked quite a bit about what her life has been like, living with MST and the PTSD that follows.  I haven’t really gone into too much detail about that but I thought that now would be a good time.

We had a trainee at work with us, a really nice woman, who is also a veteran.  Our male clerk thought she was cute and took the opportunity to make a couple of very inappropriate comments.  Nothing hideous, just words, but not realizing that words are incredibly damaging.  I encouraged her to say something to the boss.  Her response was, “I guess I am just so used to being sexually harrassed that I didn’t think anything about it.”

Let me say that again…”I am so used to being sexually harrassed.”

I know how she feels.  It becomes a way of life.  They say that we humans can get used to anything.  I guess in a way it is true.  I got so used to fighting off Clarence every single day that it became as normal to me as brushing my teeth or tying my boots.  I got so used to being grabbed or being asked to provide “services” that it became no different to me than saying “excuse me” when you bump someone in the hall.  This becomes the new normal. 

Where did that “new” normal lead me?  In my unit there were two types of females, those who had “relationships” and those who were the “outsiders.”  I admit, I reached a point where I had relationships.  Primarily – a relationship with a single individual – but an inappropriate relationship to say the least.  It put an end to a lot of crap.  It became a form of protection.  When you “belong” to someone…everyone else leaves you alone.  So, I made the choice to protect myself with my own body.  It makes me sick now to think about the choice I made.  At the same time, it breaks my heart just a little bit, because as Brigid knows…I also loved the man deeply.  He didn’t share those feelings – I was just his “sure thing.”

I wonder how many of us made those same choices.  The choice of the lesser evil.  How many of us discovered that what we thought was the “lesser evil” just wasn’t.  It sounds like crazy reasoning…but it’s not.  I remember being at annual training one year and this guy I knew in the unit was really, really drunk.  He jumped on me and pulled me into a ditch in the company area.  He climbed on top of me and started pulling at my shirt and trying to kiss me.  I screamed and the person I “belonged to” heard me – he came running with two other guys and they pulled the drunk guy off of me.  That put an end to that.  I wonder if anyone would have cared if he had raped me – if I hadn’t been someone’s sure thing.

Do you know the difference between a bitch and a slut?  A slut will sleep with anybody…a bitch will sleep with anybody but you.  This was a joke I commonly heard in my unit.  In fact, many of us would simply say…”well, I guess you can just call me a “bitch” then.” 

Sexual harrassment and  gender harrassment  become as common as the housefly.  Since you can’t beat them…you join them – in a way – and the cycle is continued on.  Only problem is that with each turn of the wheel the cycle goes faster and grows stronger.  Right now it is moving so fast that I am not sure what it would take to put on the brakes.

So what has my life been like?  Mostly I live in a state of paranoia.  But, just because your paranoid doesn’t mean that they aren’t out to get you.  I still live in close proximity to some of the abusers.  I still see Jerk – now I have Jerk part II in my own VSO.  Sometimes I laugh too loud or I am too outgoing or I am just a little too willing to write off some guys “remarks” because I don’t want to rock the boat.  I don’t want to put myself back into the position of becoming a target.  With a lot of people I hide my intelligence or I hide my insecurity and I just laugh everything off.  I live in a constant state of “don’t be a threat” to anyone.  When they view you as a threat they will take you out. 

My therapist says that I am the queen of “what ever can go wrong will go wrong – only it will go wrong 100 times worse than you ever thought it could go wrong.”  She’s right.  I know she’s right.  Still, it doesn’t stop the fact that I am constantly waiting for it…because when you stop looking behind you…that is when it jumps up and grabs you.

Imagine living a life where trusting another person is harder than just about anything else in the world.  Imagine going into the supply room at work and someone steps in the door and you just want to tear them to pieces to get through them.  Imagine dwelling for days on the comment that your co-worker made to another person because it just makes you all the more suspicious of him.  Then when he comes into your workspace you snip at him for no other reason than the fact that he is sharing your oxygen.

Every place you go… everything you do is covered in memories.  Sometimes they are good – sometimes they are horrible.  You have to alter your routes to avoid certain places or certain people.  You don’t go to strange restaurants and you don’t go to strange grocery stores.  You go to the same places to get a tank of gas or a soda.  They tore down the gas station closest to my job and now I have to make sure that I have enough gas to get to the next place…because I can’t go in the place two blocks down.  Nope – I have to drive 17 miles…because I don’t know anything about the gas station two blocks away.

Even when you are somewhere familiar you keep your back to walls and you wait in the longer grocery line because you know the clerk.  Your husband looks at you like you are crazy and he just doesn’t realize what certain things do to you.  Or even worse he knows your past and he knows the mistakes that you made.  He can’t even begin to realize the reasoning – but you know that in a small place in the back of his mind he will never really completely trust you – never fully believe that you are faithful to him.  Even though he didn’t even know you when you made the choices that you made.

There are days you can’t get off the couch.  You feel bad because other people are doing things and you really need to clean the bathroom – but you really don’t care.

This is how I “live” with it.  It is a new normal.  You try to remind yourself that there is nothing to worry about.  No one is out to get you – no one is going to hurt you.  But you know that is not true.

Joan

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