Taryn Learns a Lesson Pt. 4

Writer’s Note: It took me some time to write this because writing this makes it real, and it means that I have to make a few significant changes. Still, I’m glad I wrote it as it’s been a healing and cathartic process.

Aftermath

After Brian Head, I checked into a hotel, a nice one as I didn’t want to be cheap. I also didn’t want to be caught off guard by weirdos. Anyway,  I posted up in St. George. Though I was over Utah and ready to keep moving east, my mom was coming into town and St George is significantly cheaper than Vegas and only 90 minutes away. And, if I’m being honest, I do like St. George as the Virgin River runs through it and the trails are pretty sweet.

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Sunset in St. George

The hotel I was staying that offered breakfast and a nice one at that. So the next morning at 6, I went to the hall with my headphones and iPad and had breakfast. It was mainly uneventful until a man accidentally bumped into my table. He was sincerely apologetic, but internally I was so startled, I cleared my plate, walked back to my room and cried.

Bubble Busted

Up until that point, my sense of agency and autonomy surrounding traveling alone and being a woman had never been compromised. Barring the general safety tips, I never once questioned my ability to come and go as I pleased and I didn’t have a fear of men. Part of me was crying because of what happened, but another part was crying because I had experienced a frustrating reality.

Navigating the Feels

I experienced a wide range of emotions in the following week. Part of me questioned if I had done something to make him think his behavior was appropriate. I kept replaying the moments in my head, over and over, trying to figure out what I missed and how I got into that situation. I also was dealing with a bit of rage. Thinking about how he wrapped his body around mine and did not let me go (a hug this was not), made me want to drive back up that hill and castrate him. I hate to admit it, but this was my first experience with legitimately hating someone, at least for a moment. To have someone take a choice from you is a very infuriating thing. After stewing on the moment, I realized a very creepy thing, he targeted me from the beginning.

Ground Zero

There’s a children’s book on strangers that my parents had me read when I was a child. One of the examples had to do with a man calling a kid by his name, telling him his mother had asked him to pick the child up. The kid then asks the man what his mother’s name was and he could not answer, thus prompting the child to run to another adult for help. Looking back on how Brett introduced himself, I realized I had been suckered into that conversation by his fake segue. Seriously, I truly was the only Black woman for at least 2 towns over, it was a bullshit statement.

Not the Only One

Recognizing that I had done nothing wrong, I decided to let it go, and chalk it up to a learning lesson. Sadly, I did talk to a few women (a colleague of mine and another hotel guest) who had had similar experiences in their lives. It was nice to be understood, but it made me sad to realize that this crap happens more than I knew. I’m fortunate that my experience was relatively harmless and only lasted a weekend. I will say that I now understand why people choose not to speak on these matters.

There are so many conflicted feelings, it’s hard to articulate what’s happening, and your response in the situation is never what you’d think it would be. Before this incident, if you would have asked me what I’d do if a man ever put his hands on me, I’d tell you I’d fight back. Now that it had happened, I 100% understand why women (and men) don’t fight back, laugh, or deny the event in its entirety. There’s so much red tape, and unless you’ve experienced it, it’s hard to identify or relate to. That and the first thing most people ask is if you were complicit in some kind of way. As time went on, I minimized the event, believing that I had overblown the situation. I was well on my way in getting past it until I received an email, which prompted me to write this series.

Trust Your Gut

As I was getting ready to go to Vegas, I received an email from Brett titled: Hello There. I’ll admit, my heart sunk when I saw it and I felt a sense of dread. Still, I opened it. It started out with him talking about everything he was up to. I got three sentences in and realized that it was a freaking novel. After he stopped talking about himself, he began recalling “compliments” I gave him. This dude was skewing words I had said to make it seem like I was infatuated with him! It took me 2 seconds to realize that I was right, he was nuts. At that moment, I felt relief. What happened was messed up, not my fault, and I was ready to keep going with my life. I decided to delete the email before reading its entire contents and blocked his email address. I wasn’t going to let some asshole take up space in my head any longer.

Healing Old Wounds

This is going to sound weird, but I’m grateful for the experience as it forced me to deal with another traumatic episode in my life. After the incident with my family member, which I talked about recently, a conversation with my dad helped me come to terms with a lot of crap that I had been bottling up and avoiding. Last week, my dad was sharing with me some revelations he had in therapy, regarding triggers and traumatic incidences he had blocked out as a kid. To hear him speak about it and be at peace was astounding. I was happy for him. It also got me to thinking about an incident that happened to me 7 years ago that I had blocked out. Unpacking that incident made me see how it had impacted me for the last 7 years.

Recognizing trauma

When I was 23, I was living with a family member who I had (still have) a tumultuous relationship with. To everyone in my family, it didn’t seem like a big deal and most just chalked it up to me being overly-sensitive. Long story short, I had just started my first corporate job (which spear-headed this blog), and this person was pretty jealous. To be honest, whatever I did she disapproved of and made thinly veiled comments. I could never do anything right and when I’d ask for the rules or how to better get along, she always changed the goal post. She’d say lavender and then say she meant blue. This went on forever. And forget about her taking responsibility for anything she did. Even if she was caught redhanded, she would excuse her behavior.

So anyway, one day I had just gotten home from a long day. I had barely gotten through the door and she began to pick a fight. I held my cool and did not engage, which enraged her even further, so much so that she shoved me into the garage, locked me out of the house, and threw my belongings outside. This occurred in front of my 4 and 5-year-old niece and nephew. I was stunned, but didn’t have time to process emotionally. I had been in Vegas for only 3 months and I didn’t know anyone else. I had just started a new job and had already paid my share of the rent, so I didn’t have the extra funds to go anywhere. Fortunately, my old boss turned friend let me stay with her for a week until I got my apartment.

Cleaning Old Wounds

Because I was able to relocate so quickly, I just put the incident out of my head, failing to emotionally process what all had occurred. I had just started a demanding job, I still had to finish up 2 more classes, I was in a new environment, and I had a host of new responsibilities. Sorting out my feelings was just not a priority. The problem is, when you don’t deal with trauma, it deals with you. The reason why I’m sharing it now is that I’m finally understanding my experience with emotional abuse and traumatic occurrences and how they’ve impacted me over the last 7 years.

Only 6 weeks after that incident, I had to go back to the scene of the crime as that was where Thanksgiving was taking place. Even though I knew I had been egregiously wronged, I just buried my feelings to get along. This wouldn’t be the last time either. When someone forces you out of your home, destabilizing your environment, and destroying your sense of safety and wellbeing, well, it messes up your head. Also, having a family rally around the offender holiday after holiday, knowing what’s going on but still carrying, on psychologically screws you up even more.

Logically, my mindset was “the needs of the many trumps the few”. But emotionally, I began to shut down in ways, I’m only beginning to understand. To try and quickly wrap this up, I began to shut down academically (failed both classes I should have easily Aced), I was making poor life choices (staying numb to everything and was incredibly hypervigilant), and I eventually would go back to live with this person on two different occasions.

See, during my time away she would be kind, charming, charismatic, and almost seemingly loving, which screwed up my reality as to what was really going on. Like a siren luring ships into destruction, I’d be comforted by her false promises and hidden agenda. So, when I decided to go freelance, it seemed like a no brainer, we were on better terms, what could go wrong? Well, everything.

She was so good at twisting words, getting people on her side, and changing her mood as quickly as she breathed, that I began to question my experience. Even when I knew she was clearly in the wrong, I would second guess myself. This pattern led to ruminating thoughts, and when I was extremely stressed– which was almost all the time– I couldn’t think my way out of a paper bag.

Destructive Behaviors

I recently read a book about dealing with a narcissistic family member and I cannot tell you how much peace, healing, and validation I got. When you’re dealing with someone of that nature, it’s almost like fighting a monster that is very real to you and imaginary to everyone else. People like that erode your sense of self, tear you down, and then manipulate you into thinking you’re useless without their help. It’s difficult to identify when you’re in the throws of it.

The weird part and I have to thank Brett, I suppose, is that when someone outside my family had tried to use these tactics, it was easy to see. But because she’s family, I was none the wiser, that and I had never experienced this kind of dysfunctional home environment. Living with my parents was pretty easy in the sense that I had my space, they were supportive and loving. Plus, they aren’t the manipulative, gaslighting type. So, I had no reference for what was going on and she was extremely good (and still is) at making me look like the bad guy.

Just to give a brief breakdown of my destructive behaviors, I’d have bouts of hopeless feelings, self-sabotaging behavior (with work and health), learned helplessness, hypervigilance, and lethargy. Everything was doom and gloom and nothing seemed like it mattered. Externally, I seemed unaffected and congenial. Internally, well, I was a big numb sack of parts. The biggest thing I didn’t realize until last week was how dissociative with my feelings I had become. Don’t get me wrong, I’m naturally more logical-leaning than a feeling type of person. But I have come to realize that my sense of arrested development is a coping mechanism from being under this person’s thumb for so long.

I also stopped trying to accomplish things because of a deep-rooted fear of success. That fear wasn’t because I was scared of achievement, but, I had become conditioned to be afraid of her response whenever something good happened for me. Each major conflict we’ve had has occurred when something eventful was going on in my life. I used to hide when good things happened because I was afraid of the retaliation. Our last major showdown (which prompted my travel escapades), happened after she found out that I had gotten a pretty lucrative contract with a university in town. My brother had been present when I received the news. I told him not to say anything to anyone, but he had happened to mention it to her. One day, as I was leaving my room, she appeared out of nowhere and said:

“I hear you’re going to start working with X university. Why didn’t you tell me about it?”

I remember stumbling on about just finding out, terrified of the implications of this conversation. She walked away with this eerie shrug, and I knew it would not be the last of this. Anyway, retaliation did happen on her birthday, to which she again (for the 3rd time, I know, I’m an idiot) kicked me out. Fortunately, I had had enough and had the financial resources to go my own way. After leaving, I had the wonderful opportunity to see 9 different states, hang out in Eugene, Or. for 4 months, and make many neat friends along the way. Those experiences were so necessary for me to build up a resolve. Even still, I had to return to the scene of the crimes(s) for family holidays as though none of this stuff had occurred.

Breaking the cycle

I can’t begin to describe the mental gymnastics one has to go through to justify and tolerate such in an insane cycle of behavior. For the most part, I was able to trick myself into believing I was fine, and to the outside world, it appeared as such. What made it even worse was how these manufactured family holidays messed with my head. Everything revolved around her, her house, her control. If it’s not about her, she would pout or shun people. I’d have to tiptoe around just to appease her fragile sense of self, even to my detriment.

To best describe it, it’s like being shot in the gut, everyone knows who shot you, but because you’re bleeding out, it’s too uncomfortable to look at, and you, the wounded person must alter your reality to appease everyone involved. Now, I understand why I had this underlying rage (which only manifested if I drank) lurking about. Looking back, I completely understand my behavior patterns and why I had become such a passive person in my life.

I will say, that I am grateful for certain bouts of resiliency that I had, and now, I’m doubling down on that. One of the things I learned reading books on this dynamic is that people with this affliction target those they perceive to be strong, which means I’m strong enough to survive this and move on in my life. So, as I said a few posts ago, I’m glad this person has “kicked me out” of her life. It’s been a blessing. Sure it means I’m walking away from certain things, but it also means I’m walking back to me, and that is way more important than anything else.

Moving On

Now that I’ve gotten this all out of my head, it leaves prime real estate for me to do the things I want to accomplish. That, and we can go back to my regularly (not-regular) scheduled posts about things that interest me and not things that have haunted me. I will say that, if anyone has experienced this type of abuse/family dynamic, apparently, it’s more common than you think and it’s not your fault. Don’t feel ashamed if someone is mistreating you. At the end of the day, the only person you’re responsible for is yourself. Lastly, I’ll list a few resources that helped me heal and move past this. I hope they help you as much as they have helped me.

Resources:

Emotional Abuse Symptoms

Family Dynamics

Emotional Manipulation Signs

Narcissistic Abuse: Recovering from a toxic relationship and becoming the Narcissist’s nightmare.

Taryn Learns a Lesson Pt. 2

Safety is such a subjective matter. Everyone has their own interpretation of safety. For me, autonomy has always been at the center of my core. Personal safety, however, has not been something I’ve had to define for myself, even as a woman. Before this incident, I was certainly in the minority, as I never really questioned my safety. I had always adhered to practical rules for traveling solo. That and I have a very muscular 55 lb border collie mix who has no problem voicing her dislike for people. Even as a pup, she challenged a 120 lb pit mix when it came running down the street to attack us on a nighttime stroll. At 36 lbs during this event, she held her own, only sustaining a surface wound on her backside. I was more traumatized than she. But anyway, I’m off topic.

Saturday Morning

I woke up, like any other day, and Abbey and I went for a decent-sized walk. I felt like I owed it to her for the other day. On that walk, I called my dad. We chatted for a bit and caught up. He was in Maryland for the funeral of his great uncle. There, he was re-introduced to family members he hadn’t been in contact with since his childhood. I remember hearing his disbelief and awe about family problems that sent a rift between his grandfather and great uncle. He had enjoyed catching up with cousins and the like and lamented about how much time had passed for this to occur. That moment stuck with me as I realized how important it was to let things go and not to harbor grudges.

Anyway, I had told him about the second conversation I had with Brett and how it was not my cup of tea. I then thanked him for being such a great male role model for me and demonstrating healthy boundaries. One of the things I had come to ascertain from my experience with Brett was how easy it is for an unassuming woman to fall prey to his creepy advances. Fortunately for me, I was not interested or charmed by his behavior and I made sure my actions and words matched that sentiment. Still, the observationalist in me could see the parallels of overbearing behavior being misconstrued as loving or amorous.

Society does not help in matters such as these. Older men are often regarded as wise, smarter than the average idiot 20-something male, and the age stigma has certainly decreased over time. That and I’ve observed women in their 20s abandon their sense of self when receiving the attention of a seemingly well-established older male. Fortunately for me, my bullshit detector is in full form, so Brett’s charming facade had more cracks than a broken mirror.

Again, I can’t take full credit as my relationship with my father really informs my relationships with members of the opposite sex. I’m fortunate in the sense that I can talk to my dad about anything and we have a very candid friendly relationship. As I’ve grown older, it’s only improved. So after an hour-long chat, Abbey was happy with the prolonged outdoor adventure, so she and I retreated back into the condo.

I always feel like…

Maybe it’s the writer in me, or maybe it’s because I enjoy being alone, I am very good about observing my surroundings– even if I don’t heed my internal warnings. Back in the condo, I sink into this retro leather recliner, which is positioned by the window and balcony door. I should mention that the condo is a studio, so I was sitting by the only window. Since we are right by one of the exits, I keep the blinds partially open so that people on the outside can’t see us. That and it provides enough cover for me to creep on passerby’s undetected. For the first time in 28 days, I saw a shadowy figure outside the window that was seemingly not going away.

…somebody’s watching me

Intrigued, I was curious and annoyed by the person lurking by my window. I had grown accustomed to people walking by on weekends, but this was different, as the person was there for a few minutes. I cautiously proceed to the window, careful not to give away my position as I peeked through the blinds. To my dismay and creeped out vibes, it was Brett, standing there with his phone. A few seconds later, my phone beeps He was texting me while trying to nonchalantly peer through my window. At this point, chills were going down my spine as I open the message. Why the fuck was he by my window?

Creepy Texts

“Hey, how are you doing? You seemed a little off last night. Wanna hang out?” was the message on my phone. Again, I had just met this dude, and I’m 100% sure, I kept my cool when leaving. If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s being a chameleon, so his constant comments were absurd.

“Sorry if I was obnoxious,” again adhering to the stupid social contract. “I can’t. I’m packing to leave. I will let you know if things change.”

“It’s fine, I videotaped you and put it on YouTube,” was his response.

My heart sank to my feet as I was utterly thrown and disturbed by the comment. Who the fuck says that and in what world did he think that was ok? He was still by my window and at that moment, I felt stuck in the condo. Ignoring the text, I decided to ignore the situation. This dude can’t bother me unless I engage. Still, I had no desire to leave the tiny studio because he was lurking about. I remember feeling a sense of dread and frustration.

I hate when people intrude on my space, especially when it’s unwelcomed. That and there was literally no reason for him to be on my side of the condo. The rest of the day proceeded with him, sending more texts asking to hang out and apologizing for the YouTube comment. So clearly he recognized how inappropriate that text was. I ignored them all. The fact that he kept texting even though I had explicitly said I would let him know really pissed me off.

If this were a normal situation, I would have called him out and told him to fuck off. But seeing as the complex was nearly vacant and the only other people I knew were away, I just didn’t want to risk it. At this point, it was clear something was off with the dude, and I didn’t have any real recourse should he go off the deep end. For the first time in my 29 years of existence, I realized that my safety was compromised and it was a disturbing feeling.

Condo Barricade

Come Sunday morning, I basically barricaded myself in the condo. I didn’t want to run into him, even for a second. I was so paranoid that instead of taking Abbey out to pee using our normal route, I used the entrance a few feet from the condo. This required me to pick her up, carry her over the grated flooring (she refused to walk it, and I can’t blame her, it would’ve shredded her paw pads), let her do her business, and then carry her back over the floor. Neither of us enjoyed this process, but I didn’t want to take any chances.

Around 1 pm, I was fed up feeling like a prisoner and I really needed to get some work done. I made the decision to drive down the mountain to go to Starbucks. My car was located in the downstairs garage. It was literally a 45-second walk, there’s no way I’d run into Brett. Still, I had this sinking feeling that I could not shake. I made the decision to ignore my apprehension, weighing the odds to go through with it. There’s no way I’d let some creepy asshole deter me from going on about my day. I said a quick goodbye to Abbey and then tiptoed down the hallway. As I opened the door to the stairwell, before I could get a look at the figure before me, a pair of arms pulled me into an embrace. It was Brett.

Stupid Stairwells

There are no words in the English dictionary to describe how it feels when someone– who is bigger and stronger– puts their body on yours when you don’t want them to. I hate being touched without permission. I especially hate it when it’s a person that I had been actively trying to avoid. My first instinct was to pull away. As I began to squirm, he hugged me tighter and harder, stifling my attempts to free myself. I could not get out. Until that moment, I had never felt so physically powerless in my life. This was not a friendly hug, and I knew exactly what he was trying to convey– control and dominance. He succeeded, as I went limp, understanding that I didn’t have the strength to fight him off. I just stood there, waiting for him to be done.

“Hi!!” He screeched, finally letting me go.

“I don’t like hugs,” I mumble not making eye contact, pushing past him to head to my car. I was spooked and wanted to get away. He clearly did not get the hint as he followed me to my car.

“Where are you going?” he asked

“Coffee shop,” I muttered.

“Do you need a printer? I have one. You can come up,” he said as he walked me to my car. “Is this your car?”

Shit, I thought. Now this fucker knows my vehicle and basically every important detail about my whereabouts.

“I’m fine, thanks,” I mutter, trying to get into my car.

“You seem standoffish as opposed to the other night,” he mentions. “Don’t forget to stop by and say goodbye before you leave. You have to promise me you’ll stop by. I’ll find you if you don’t.”

At this point, I was flabbergasted. Keep in mind, this is Sunday afternoon. I met this dude Friday late morning and had only 2 conversations. For him to be so pushy was insane to me. That and I was still trying to deal with the ambush that just happened. What stood out to me the most was his word choice. Even though he tried to appear “friendly”, everything was a command, order, or a threat.

“Yeah, I’ll stop by,” I say in a frustrated tone. “I need to go.”

“Ok, no need to be pushy,” he fake-jokingly retorted with his hands in the air as if I was overreacting.

At this point, I didn’t care about how he perceived my behavior. I got into my car and went down the mountain. I decided to shove the encounter to the back of my mind. I had work to do and still needed to finish cleaning and packing. Still, I couldn’t help but think about his comments about saying goodbye. I decided that I would stop by, but on my terms and I would have the control.

To be continued…

 

Why Interpersonal Communication is Dead

Today, I was going to write about my fondness for admiring older men (another story for another time), but I find myself baffled by the complexities of topics such as harassment and the like. I wasn’t going to talk about such subjects because as a woman, it appears that I may have differing opinions on the matter as opposed to the masses. However, after watching some troubling YouTube videos and reading about scary moments when a member of the opposite sex tried to strike up a conversation; I have become to believe one thing. Interpersonal communication is dying among Millennials.

What is Interpersonal Communication?

 Interpersonal communication is the process by which people exchange information, feelings, and meaning through verbal and non-verbal messages: it is face-to-face communication.

 

Obviously I don’t mean that everyone under that category cannot speak to one another, but as we all become so engrossed with our precious technologies, we seem to have forgotten how to talk to our fellow man. When was the last time you talked to someone you didn’t know who was within 10 feet of you? Furthermore, if someone approached you offering casual conversation, would you accept and engage? I’m not talking about the cat calling weirdness that sometimes happens, but if a person poses a legitimate topic, would you write them off?

I ask this because all too often, I’m seeing/hearing people complain about harassment when the question was harmless. Since we seldom interact with each other in a spontaneous fashion, it seems as though our ability to do so has diminished severely. What I mean by this is that, communication/interaction is like a muscle, if you don’t exercise it from time to time, it will become underdeveloped and essentially useless. I grew up in a small  town in Southern California, where if you were in a long line, it would be completely normal to strike up a conversation with the person standing next to you. Nowadays doing that same action results in the recipient either thinking you’re weird or are trying to hit on them. Even more so, that one encounter becomes the cornerstone argument that harassment is a real and rampant thing that is oppressing the female gender. One Youtuber even went as far as saying that a woman’s #1 fear is rape. Uh, my biggest fear is snakes…so… yeah. I’m not saying harassment does not exist, it does. Has it happened to me? You bet. However, I do not live my life in fear because of a few instances. What’s even more frustrating is that hashtag movements have become a soap box for individuals to talk about the one time they got hit on at the bar by someone who was either incredibly nervous or could have been a jackass.

Let’s be honest, going up to a stranger and starting a conversation is hard, for everyone. It requires one to muster up the courage to speak with you in the first place, which seems like a miracle since we’re so distant from each other anyway. We’re already so closed off from the idea of talking to others without it coming from a cellphone, it’s not even funny. So my next question is, if talking to someone in a line, at a bookstore, or in a bar is so taboo or considered harassment, how are we supposed to connect with one another? Personally, even as an introvert, if anyone offers something interesting to say, I gladly welcome the interaction. Why? Because I appreciate the effort of a person wanting to interact and be human for a minute. What’s not human is being glued to a device as your only means of connecting with the outside world. Also, I find it entertaining as some of the very same people who are for this “movement” are the very same folks who complain about having trouble making friends or meeting potential partners. Well those types of interactions require you to speak to one another. It’s not rocket science.

To be clear, I am not downplaying anyone’s plights or dealings with harassment of any kind. I believe that everyone has the right to feel comfortable and safe. My problem is with the growing few who interpret a book recommendation as a scary experience thus deeming someone creepy. Guess what, not everyone is trying to sleep with you. Sometimes it’s nice to speak to someone new using your voice and not your thumbs. Let’s turn off our phones and get to know each other in the old fashioned way. So, with that being said, I’m off to go to a new coffee shop and speak to a stranger. I encourage you to do the same. 🙂

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