“Remember, courage!” I sort of smiled/laughed as a manager told me this yesterday with a fist skyward (or ceiling-ward), still hugging my hoodie. He noticed how I’d become quieter and more anxious, and so among the things he did (e.g. just listening to what I felt safe to share about it), was that little bit of spunky encouragement to get me through what I was struggling with:
My day job is a greeter/cashier to a museum, so I handle a lot of cash. I’d never known before this job that there could be so many states money could come in; crumpled, ripped-and-taped, doodled, emergency groceries lists, crisp and new, discolored, stamped with propaganda, etc. Sometimes it can be annoying, other times monotonous, or even amusing; I myself would deface the larger bills I get with the counterfeit pen because it’s easy to remember that a blonde mustache means it’s real while a brunette/black mustache means it’s questionable.
But when I get a wet and/or sticky bill, all other emotions go out the window, and instantly replaced immediately with horror.
It isn’t so bad if there’s a cold drink in the cupholder, because then I can just write it off as harmless condensation, or even sweat. If it’s anything else, especially if it’s white and viscous…off I sprint to the office sink to scrub my hands off.
Yesterday was the worst reaction I’ve had yet; I did sprint to the sink, but washed my hands twice with soap in a frantic panic, and when I went back to my register, I wanted to wash them again and again and again. I started to compulsively scratch at the skin on my palms, though had enough presence of mind to stop before it got self-harmful (amazingly). I was soon trembling, gasping, curling up in my chair as that obnoxious song played in my head. It took a longer while, and more conscious effort to calm down after that.
I’m not sure why it was so strong a reaction. That one song was recently played in my presence a couple of days ago (to which I left my table, hid in the bathroom, and banged my head against the stall a few times to stop “what happened” from flooding my brain-matter before curling up into a little ball). It could be just that still bothering me.
Or a still-buried memory of that day is knocking on the door of my consciousness.
And it gets worse as body memories of a certain kind of sexual abuse I didn’t remember happening to me by any of those men were not only present, but were very strong, all during my triggered bout of anxiety to support that theory.
I know it’s better to let it play out. I know nothing good comes from shoving it into an overstuffed suitcase to explode later…but it doesn’t mean I’m still not scared.
I don’t really have much advice to give over this, in spite of all the traumatic memories I already have recovered. Sometimes writing or drawing helps it come back so I can address it. I’d usually wait until I’m alone, running and hiding somewhere even to make sure no one sees me hurt and weak (and that may sound a little noble, but it’s not; I’m frightened of what they’d think if they’d witnessed that, so when I run, I’m seeking safety).
Once, maybe twice, though, a therapist would be there, and usually it’s just him listening and observing; again, I never had any hypnotherapy or anything intrusive like that. I’d usually tell them, and whoever’s my spiritual director/confessor at the time. I used to tell close friends, but I don’t really do that any more; either I’m (deeply) afraid of being hurt again, or I don’t want to subject the other, again, with my hurt so that whenever they look at me, they’re sad and/or angry.
My therapist today told me, again, to put these things in God’s hands, that He’s already taking care of these things, and to reframe and forgive these memories in the reality of God’s love. A priest I like to follow online, Fr. Mike Schmitz, said something similar in this great video he made about praying while in a state of mortal sin; he said that when we mess up our relationship with God, we should 1) plan to make it up to Him in confession, and 2) let Him love us in that moment.
These things are daunting. They require courage. I don’t feel like I have that courage.
It always just confuses me so much; people, who know about my trauma or not, use words like “strong,” “brave,” and “courageous” to describe me (putting aside the even more ridiculous, outlandish adjectives of “pure,” “prayerful,” and “virtuous”). The manager from the start of this entry used that word, “courageous” just yesterday. One once said he “admired my courage” with regards to me going to the police. Yesterday evening, a lady from church told me over the phone that I have a lot of God’s graces in me, that I was a “strong young lady.”
But that’s not me!
I’m always scared out of my mind! I’m always isolating myself from others out of fear of getting hurt or whatever! I’m always hiding, trembling in a corner, clinging to whatever security blanket I have handy! That’s not what courage looks like, right? So just how am I “courageous”?
…And there it is: I’m suddenly reminded (or is it inspired?) of that quote from that lackluster movie from my teen years, The Princess Diaries, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something is more important than fear.” As I look up the exact words of the quote first said by Meg Cabot, I see that it goes on it say, “The brave may not live forever but the cautious do not live at all.” Mother wanted me to take after Mia’s example because she was an awkward, frizzy-haired, klutz (like me) who blossomed into a princess, but that’s what I took from that movie, that cowards can be brave.
“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something is more important than fear.”
A lot of the things people call “courage” in my life are just things I consider common sense; it’s just The Right Thing to work through my trauma, remember it, cope with it, to report these abuses to the police, to try to figure out life, and to learn about forgiveness and love after a lifetime of condemnation and hatred – it’s The Right Thing to do, so I’m going to do it. Nothing ever special about that, yet so many people treat it as something special, like I’m special.
I guess, though, St. Jeanne was a very simple, ordinary girl, yet through God’s grace and her humble courage, she did very special things. We can look at other saints like St. Martha (that same fussy housekeeper, who stands with St. George as one of the least-known dragon slayers), St. Therese (the self-proclaimed Little Flower, but in God’s great garden), or St. Maria Goretti, a little girl who forgave her murderer and would-be-rapist before she died so completely that he’s considered for sainthood himself by some for how much he’d reformed into the very image of holiness. They were courageous and they were “ordinary girls”.
What Fr. Mike Schmitz said in one of his similar videos (Why God Loves You), and my therapist said today, echoes this, that, “God doesn’t love us because we’re special; we’re special because He loves us.”
Maybe, therefore, I am courageous, through Him who gives me courage. I completely credit Him for what compassion or wisdom I’ve found and grown on this healing journey; why not courage? If that’s true, then I have reason to be very grateful, and that gratitude makes me happy.
What’s more…that gratitude makes me feel, actually feel, courageous.