My Body, My Life, My Terms

This post will weave quite a story, so I hope you’ll stick around for the end… For years I’ve been afraid of anesthesia. Really since it first came up, whenever that first surgery was. The process of surgery, everything related to it. No one ever understood, though I have incredibly patient and kind friends who have always helped me out.

I did hypnosis early on when I had to go under fully for the first time. It didn’t seem to help much. In the meditative work we did, there was a box to look in, and I apparently was not ready to open it. That was about 15 years or so ago.

I never really knew why I had this fear. I wasn’t like other people. Everyone else I talked to wants to be put under and not know. They just could not understand or relate to me. Me? I could not stand the thought of not knowing everything that happens during surgery. I refused any pre-medication, and chose to have anything done while awake. No matter how utterly painful it was, like the uterine ablation, I wanted to be awake for it all. A little bit of morphine and that was it.

My very strong meditative skills worked wonders in those situations, and when I got into the operating room, it was game time, and I made it work. I controlled my blood pressure, I breathed through the incredible pain. But why would I choose, adamantly choose, something so painful?

I always thought it was because of several news shows I saw, like on 60 minutes and 20-20 that do the more in depth segments. They were on a kick about surgeries for a while. One was what medical staff in different examples were recorded saying with undercover recordings during surgery. Things they said not just about their own lives but also denigrating towards the patient. Then there was the one that talked about how patients are put under but don’t end up completely under, yet they cannot say anything. They are effectively paralyzed and feel all the pain of the surgery.

I had some anesthesia for my first sinus surgery, but I was awake. Unfortunately, it did not do much to negate these fears. The whole atmosphere in that operating room was very nonchalant, and completely unlike any of my later experiences. Yet it set the stage.

In my next surgery where I was completely under, my first arm surgery, they switched me out of the surgery gown when I wasn’t making memories yet. I “woke up” and saw I was in a completely different gown that had been done without me knowing. Not helpful.

Combine all that with the fact that anesthesia makes me very ill and some level of fear is understandable. Yet my fear was so intense and overwhelming. It was by sheer will and determination that I made it to each of the surgeries where I had to be put under. For the ones I had to be completely under, there was one sinus surgery, two arm surgeries and then one final surgery where I finally figured it out in 2013.

I’ve had a busy last two years since the last of three uterine surgeries in June 2013. And though after that surgery, I figured out the source of my fear, I have been so busy recovering and reclaiming my life that I didn’t take time to think about it much since working through it that summer.

When I was threatened in the park this June, it scared the hell out of me. And then two weeks later, the attempted car-jacking. I was rather nonchalant about the car-jacking that I avoided. I mean, I rather easily got away, right? No big deal. But through that, as I wrote about in my last blog post, Taking Back My Power, I am not a victim and I will never cower in my own home again.

This is where things get interesting again. Stay with me for a moment, and you’ll see the connection. It is something I don’t talk about…

I bought my gun (a Glock 43), joined the range, and since mid to late July, I’ve been talking classes, training, practicing and taking private lessons. I’ve been doing amazing. And I love it. There is just something about shooting that resonates in my core. The partnership with the gun. The mind-body connection. It just does it for me. Couple that with great instructors and a range staff that is so welcoming to women. I worked through the intimidation of just going there in the first place.

I feel like every step I take, every time I practice, I take back my power. I have known who I am for a long time. I am confident, centered and strong. I am happy and love my life. I do what makes me happy. I know who I am and what I want and I live my life on my terms. Yet I cannot deny that the events this June really impacted me this summer.

A week and a half ago I had my first private lesson. It was awesome! Before that lesson, I was watching lots of videos that weekend to learn more, and I had watched a video about retention. That basically means keeping your gun when under attack. In this case, the woman and her husband simulated what looked to be a sexual assault. The man was on top of her, sitting on her pelvis, and she was showing how she tactically was going to draw her gun and retain it in this situation.

It really bothered me, and I didn’t know why. I watched it a few times. I mentioned it to my instructor in our lesson and said that it had bothered me. The instructor told me that he would rather see me use anything else to get out of that direct situation. Stab him with anything available, go for his eyes, anything. Get away, and then go for my gun to stop him coming back after me. He said that if I shot him like that when an attacker was on top of me, unlike in the movies, it would not be in the right location to have stopping power, and he would try to kill me.

Odd as it may seem, that conversation and his words and advice made me feel a whole lot better about the video. As I said, the lesson was so great, and I’m really looking forward to the next one!

Earlier this week there was a meeting of a group of women that I joined at the range and the session was on home defense. It started with a video of a simulated home invasion, with the woman running to her safe room, in this case her bedroom, locking the door, calling 911, and yelling warnings to the intruder, who then breaks through the door coming directly for her and she shoots until he stops.

In that meeting, there were so many great tips on mundane and important things to do around your home from a safety standpoint – lighting, locks, etc. Excellent information! Also in that meeting, were many stories about personal experiences by those in the room, including of the instructor. As an empath, I could see, feel and hear everything they described as if it were my own. Being an empath is like having empathy, but on steroids – you feel for someone, but you feel for them as if it were your own.

I felt a little off after that meeting, inside of myself. I went into the range and did the live fire portion of the meeting. It was awesome! For the second day in a row, I had shot 100 rounds – most I ever have and with the same accuracy. Putting some of my training into play – totally rocks! My instructor gives great advice – he’s really good at his job.

Then I went home. And I was terrified. Somehow none of my exterior lights in back have been working and it was black outside, as much as it can be in the suburbs anyway. I have a detached garage, and I had to walk from the garage in back, in the dark, go in my backyard, past the dark grade way stairwell, until I finally got in the house where I proceeded to turn on all the lights. That night, I went to bed with my gun loaded for the first time. I had been waiting until I was good enough. I’m good enough now.

Of course since then, I’ve already done a ton to implement what was recommended and have an electrician hopefully coming next week.

In any case, that night and the next day, I realized the connection back to what I realized after the surgery in June 2013. And more. The threats of murder and assault in the park, followed by the attempted car-jacking, had really brought all this up apparently for me to deal with, so I looked at it again.

When I finally figured it out a few years ago, and I’ll explain what “it” was here shortly, I told the anesthesiologist after my big surgery. He said if I told people they would understand. He was amazing. This huge fear of being under anesthesia, i.e. what would happen when I was out…

The first story below is the reason for the fear. And it connects in with why the home defense class scared the crap out of me earlier this week. Yet make no mistake, I’m so grateful for that class, the details and that topic in general, and want to know, learn and practice a lot more.

When I was in college, I was a junior when I transferred to American University in DC. I was working on a campaign plan for a congressional candidate from Missouri as part of my campaigns and elections class. I did not know many people and was quite alone in those first few months. I did not know my roommate very well.

I went to an extremely late night dinner with the congressional candidate. It was a Friday night. He kept calling to postpone the time due to PAC/money meetings running long. It never occurred to me to have any concern. We were supposed to go over the campaign plan that I was writing. I drank some beforehand because I was nervous for what I thought about as this big meeting with a congressional candidate on the work I was doing. I had a few kalua and creams. I was tiny, a size 2, and I didn’t eat a whole lot back then and of course was waiting to have dinner, so it was on an empty stomach.

I had on my nicest outfit. College students don’t have lots of those, and we were middle class and could not afford the school I was going – my parents gave everything for me, and Grandma would buy things for my parents, I had work-study, scholarships and loans. So this night I had on a white long sleeve, button front white, soft and kind of silky shirt. I had on a black skirt and a black belt.

When the congressional candidate finally showed up, we went to dinner. I use that term loosely as “dinner” consisted of wine and some fruit/cheese. I was so young, like 19 or 20 and really naïve. After I got drunk, I wanted to go back to my school. I kept repeatedly making that request. He took me back to his hotel room instead, which he was sharing with another man who was in bed at the time. I went to the bathroom and threw up. Everything was fuzzy to me.

I asked again to go back to my college. Instead, we ended up at a different hotel and he took me to a room. I kept wanting to go home. This was before cell phones, and when I finally got to a land phone, I tried to call my roommate and tell her, but she didn’t know me well yet. He took the phone away from me, and he told her I was find and that was that. I couldn’t leave. I had no money, didn’t know anyone else and was in a strange city. It never would have happened at my first college – my roommates would have turned over every stone to get to me.

I passed out. When I did, I was on the edge of the bed, curled up, on top of the covers. I woke up, stilling laying on the bed…with his hands under my clothes and all over me. He was behind me. It took me a while to figure out what was happening, even where I was.

As soon as it clicked in my head, I flew off of the bed, turned around and started screaming at him. He was a smooth talker. He knew I could ruin his political career, even back in those days when no one cared that much about things like this in politics. I was so out of it. Terrified. I finally said I wouldn’t say anything and that I wanted to leave. He gave me money for a cab.

Thank god it wasn’t worse. I’m really lucky. I don’t even want to think about what else could have happened.

I never told my parents (and I’m blocking my parents from any Facebook posts I do of this link, so if you know them, please don’t tell them).

I only had told very few. Until now.

So what happened to me? I never labeled it. I knew it was wrong. I blamed myself because I got drunk. Because it was a strange city and I didn’t know my way around. Because I didn’t have any money. Because I was so incredibly fucking stupid.

I did my best to forget about it. My roommate was of zero help and she didn’t get it at all. I wasn’t close yet with my soon to be great best friend I met there. I mentioned it after the campaigns & elections class one night to one of my fellow students finally, and it was so hard to say, but I also felt she didn’t get it.

So I ignored it and went about my business. I had to finish my class. I had to finish that campaign plan – on this candidate.

I did what needed to be done.

Lucky for me, my will and determination kicked in and instead of my grades falling, I nailed it with a 3.8 and graduated Magna Cum Laude. I loved college.

A few years later, when living in my first house, I took a bath – a very long one – and I made a recording of everything that happened and my experience. I still have that cassette in my nightstand. I have never listened to it again. Yet somehow I never really thought that this was important. I was fine.

Now that I’ve done research this week, I immediately found that for women who go through what I did, that it is *incredibly* common to have fear of surgery and anesthesia. It described *exactly* how I felt about it and my experience! In my third uterine surgery, I was in the hospital afterwards, and they did many things that exacerbated the whole situation post-surgery. I was physically and emotionally traumatized by the surgery and the hospital stay.

I worked through it that summer. I embraced it. Through that, I am this even more amazing woman than I was before.

And I remembered the words of the anesthesiologist, “people will understand.” The anesthesiologist who could have left, and did not know about this, but who knew my fear. Despite the operating room being late, and thus my surgery running late, and him being many hours over on his shift, he stayed to be with me when I woke up and started making memories. He held my hand and calmed me in my terror when my friend wasn’t with me yet when I woke up. And he came to see me the next morning in the hospital. He was the shining light of the whole experience. He was a mirror of unconditional love and safety for me to see myself and to know I was safe. I will never forget him and what he did for me.

Let’s talk labels. Back to, what happened to me? Let’s look at some definitions…

• According to the U.S. Justice Department, “sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Falling under the definition of sexual assault are sexual activities as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape.”

• According to Miriam-Webster, sexual assault is “illegal sexual contact that usually involves force upon a person without consent or is inflicted upon a person who is incapable of giving consent (as because of age or physical or mental incapacity) or who places the assailant (as a doctor) in a position of trust or authority.”

• According to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, “sexual assault is a crime of power and control. The term sexual assault refers to sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent of the victim. Some forms of sexual assault include:
o Penetration of the victim’s body, also known as rape
o Attempted rape
o Forcing a victim to perform sexual acts, such as oral sex or penetrating the perpetrator’s body
o Fondling or unwanted sexual touching.”

And there it is.

Mine was without consent. I was incapable of giving consent – I was passed out unconscious with no awareness of what was happening. I was being fondled, and there absolutely was unwanted sexual touching.

I was sexually assaulted.

I never used that word until this week. Before now, I was like, well, I wasn’t injured, beaten, no one had a gun or knife on me, he didn’t rape me, so really, no big deal, I’m fine, right? I minimized it. I compared it to what happened to other women, and I completely discounted my experience. Apparently that is very common too through my research. Couple that with my embarrassment and shame from being so stupid and putting myself into a situation that allowed this to happen.

Yeah. So that happened. I was sexually assaulted.

It didn’t end there. Other traumas can amplify the ones that came before.

A few years later, I was at our favorite nightclub downtown where we went several times a week. A bunch of us had been out and had an amazing time. I’d been too drunk to drive home and asked to stay after hours in the bar, which I did. My friend did not. She went to a friend’s truck, who was a bartender friend of ours. When she was alone, a man (I use that term loosely) broke in and drove off with her, parked in a parking lot and violently beat and raped her. She kicked out the windshield of the truck trying to get away from him. He dropped her off naked in north city and we finally found her at Barnes Hospital in the wee hours of the morning, after looking for her all night.

Then there was an eight hour deposition for me, appearing at the trial of the rapist and speaking in front of the rapist and of course her going her separate way from all of us due to the trauma she experienced.

I could have been her if I had chosen to go with her or if it had been me instead of her. It shook me to my core for a long time. Looking back, I’m sure more so because of my original experience with sexual assault. After my friend was raped, even when the movie Braveheart came out I could hardly watch it. It was horrible watching that rape scene, and it’s just a movie.

So when the threats were made against me this June (i.e. murder and assault) by those three guys in the park, two of which I knew, and they knew where I lived…and then avoiding the car-jacking just two weeks later, it unknowingly brought this back to me.

Then earlier this week, seeing videos of reenacting violence, and feeling those stories from others in the room, I made the connection. Another gift.

I have also been stalked by three or four men that I broke up with, one of whom tried to force his way in my front door. I have been sexually harassed on multiple occasions at jobs. It’s also part of why I chose to no longer do the same jobs I used to do.

Being raped is one of my greatest fears. I told my instructor in our first lesson, after talking about the retention video, that I hope I am never in that situation. He said he hoped not too.

But if I am, I will have more options than I did before. I am thankful for the safe and encouraging environment and folks at the range, and particularly for the excellent instructors.

This is my life. I choose. No one will choose for me. I am smart. I am not stupid. It was not my fault. I am strong. I am determined. I know who I am. I am happy. I love my life – my life. No one will take it from me. And I will keep living it…on my terms. That’s what I do. It’s who I am.

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