When I was 20 I went to America on a J1 visa and like a lot of people I drank way too much. On this one night, I drank way, way too much and had a blackout. When I came to, I was in a field with two guys asking them where I was and saying they had promised to bring me home. One of them pointed me in the direction of a street light about 100 yards away and I stumbled towards it. Then bang I was on my back, on the ground and the guy was sitting on top of me with a brick in his hand. I remember looking up at him and thinking ‘Oh my God’ … fuck… Then blackout again until I was banging on the windows and doors of a house desperately trying to get in. A door opened and I fell through. I was safe.
I had escaped. But I had no clue how. The police found the guy’s drivers licence on the wall of the field and suggested maybe he had chased me. So I created a story of me struggling ferociously with my attacker and running away, jumping over the wall and finding the house. With the guy just behind me all the time, trying to stop me from getting to safety, to finish off the job and put me in a body bag. And the fear I felt when I told myself this story, imagining how close I was to death and being reduced to a horrific statistic. And not getting in the door of that house.
So for the last 20 years, I’ve told myself this story with an additional epilogue of how stupid, how fucking fucking stupid I had been for drinking myself into that situation and how even more stupid I was that I didn’t give up drinking. Because for at least 10 more years I still drank way too much and even put myself back in blackouts and potential situations like that again.
There have been good times and I’ve made decisions that I’m very proud of. I went travelling, I changed career, I got married and have amazing kids. But I’ve been fearful of lone men and being on my own in wide open spaces and would get panic attacks if I could see no houses nearby. I’ve been overly stressed and anxious about things and have made myself ill. I never totally trusted myself again and have found myself stuck often, unable to think positively and get on in life.
So I hadn’t really escaped at all. Then last March I went on a Yoga retreat in Wicklow. It’s more than a yoga retreat really as it can include meditation, astrology, breathing, or philosophy of yoga depending on whom is there to contribute. During a group philosophy session, we were asked to discuss experiences, where we had let go and surrender ourselves to whatever will be, will be. A woman told a story of how she’d gone swimming in Hawaii early in the morning without checking with anyone if it was safe and been consumed by a tidal wave which swept her out to sea. She surrendered and was propelled safely onto the beach. She said she sat mystified and in awe for ages and had never felt so protected by the universe. Not stupid and untrustworthy for putting herself in that situation, but safe.
My only surrendering moment had been in the field, saying Oh My God. I didn’t tell my story at the philosophy session but all weekend I was consumed by it. I had an anxiety attack and couldn’t breathe during an exercise remembering how scared I was alone in an American hospital. During another session, I was overwhelmed by anger at what happened and I burst into tears and couldn’t stop. Then during one of the final mediation exercises, I considered the other woman’s tidal wave story again and I thought maybe I could change mine.
I could tell myself instead that I had surrendered in that field and somehow got to safety. And maybe I didn’t have to do it all on my own, that the universe in some way had protected me. And with this thought, a whole lot of fear just evaporated and when I remembered banging on the door and windows of the house there wasn’t someone behind me trying to kill me and stop me getting in. And I realised maybe there never was. I had been so eager to put the experience behind me that I never found out exactly what happened. Maybe the guy didn’t chase me at all. Maybe his friend, who it turned out was not a particularly bad guy, stopped him and I was left free to get over the wall. Maybe he dropped his driver’s license coming after me to make sure I was okay. Who knows?
What I do know is that I’ve been telling myself a story for 20 years that isn’t altogether true and its affected me in more ways than I ever could have imagined.
So have I now finally escaped? Well, first of all, I’ve realised you can’t or probably shouldn’t ever totally escape experiences, good or bad, but learn from them. I’m telling myself a different story now and I have noticed a difference. Not an immediate, overwhelming, ‘Yay I’m cured forever and won’t ever feel bad again’ difference but enough that I believe maybe I’m worth trusting again and enough that I could stand up here and tell the story.
One thought on “Escape – The Moth Story Slam May 2017”
Wow Sheila. Sitting in the car kind of stunned after reading that. Niamh told me about yday, were discussing the awful Enniskerry case. Held off reading it til morning time. I’m so sorry this happened to you. Can’t even imagine how terrified you must have been, get a panic attack just imagining. What a weight to carry around all these years. And you’re so right about the way we can involuntarily tell ourselves stories/ to process/accept shit that happens to us. Glad you have somewhat worked through things now. God the shit that happens to women, people…
Big hugs girl. Brilliantly bravely told story. Xx