There exists a line, a figurative one, but with implications so serious it might as well be a real line. One side of this line contains all that is socially acceptable, with consequences that, while one may or may not like it, can generally be tolerated. On the other side seems to be something that resembles freedom, but with consequences that no one has any control over, either in terms of imagination or real-life implications.
The reason I’m bringing this up is because, for a very long time in my distant youth, I kept dealing with the very real consequences of crossing the line. Losing control over my anger has been my biggest problem, because it consumed so much time in my life, not only because of the act, but mainly because of the consequences. The overwhelming emotional turmoil that follows an explosion of rage has made me rethink my values to the point of reinventing myself.
Other spaces where I would cross the line included romantic, professional, personal – if I saw a line, I ignored it and did what I wanted. Slowly, I began realising the instant gratification was just that – momentary and fleeting – but the backlash that followed was anything but instant. Over time, it dawned on me that I was spending far longer in dealing with consequences than actually living my life and that crossing the line was overrated, exhausting and unnecessary.
For a relatively short period, I stayed in my lane. I worked through quite a few of my problems and worked with a therapist for those I couldn’t handle on my own. I slowly learnt to recognise and react to red flags in my interactions with other people and distanced myself from most people who detracted from my mental health. It’s been a struggle, and it continues to be a struggle, but here we are – in our lane, with crippling cynicism and a deep-rooted fear of opening up to others.
But what do I do when someone crosses my line? What I wished I’d done, and what I did do, ended up being very different things.
What I did do, immediately, was pretend like it didn’t happen. I looked away, my mind immediately told me to not confront and to get away as soon as possible. But there was nowhere to hide – I was at home. I was at home, and the ‘friend’ – I use that term very loosely now – who had insisted on protecting me against some imaginary danger became the very real danger I wanted to escape from. I did get them out of my house, but not before walking through the niceties with a growing numbness that tried to block out what had just happened.
It took me five hours of sleep, and the realisation on waking that I could not run, to begin to accept what had happened. It took an inopportune panic attack, five days later during a very hectic week, for me to truly cry about it. And it’s still taking me time to forgive myself for not having crossed the line.
Shock happened, and shock stayed far longer than I had anticipated. And the fun thing about being in shock is not knowing you’re in shock. There’s this numbness, like a faint ringing in your ear that doesn’t go away. Imagine low-grade tinnitus that affects your emotional psyche, and that was what I was in. I existed, and that’s all I was aware of. I could not recollect how I felt during those five days to anyone who cared to ask. ‘How was your day?‘ was invariably met with ‘I don’t know. Fine, I guess.‘ because I genuinely couldn’t tell for sure.
The other fun thing about shock is that it starts immediately from the point of impact, but you realise it much, much later. You realise it only when you ask yourself the question, ‘Why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you hit back? Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you yell? Why didn’t you tell them to fuck off? Why didn’t you say no harder? Why did you trust them? Why did you think they would respect your boundaries? Why did you just fucking stand there, talking to them like nothing happened, before politely asking them to leave and saying goodnight? Why didn’t you throw them out?’
During that moment, I realised that I immediately tried to play it down, because playing it up would make things far, far worse then. I immediately tried to conform, tried to stay in my lane, tried to find the path with the least resistance, tried to keep the peace, tried, tried, tried. I tried. I don’t know what I tried. I don’t know if it helped. But, as bad as it was, it didn’t get worse. And that, truly, is the only positive in all this.
Because, while what happened to me was bad, things could have gone far worse. I could’ve been easily overpowered. I could’ve been hurt, assaulted in a far worse manner, have my dignity stripped from me in a matter of seconds. And it wouldn’t have been difficult – I’d had one drink, I was tired and I wasn’t alert enough. It could’ve been worse, and in a highly patriarchal society, it could’ve meant my social suicide.
So why didn’t I fight back? I don’t know. Logically, it seems like a combination of the way I’ve trained myself to conform to suffer less, along with wanting to run away but knowing that it wasn’t possible at the time. But taking away the logic entirely, and there’s one emotion that hung over me more than any other.
I was scared. It was an overwhelming, complete fear that took away from any other feeling. There was a bat in the corner of the hall, and there was a knife on the mattress on the ground and there was pepper spray in my bag by the table, and they were all in the same room as me. I bought all these things to be safe, but I couldn’t overcome the fog over my brain long enough to use those things. I couldn’t tap into any of my anger or my survival instinct to fight, to create a scene, to show my strength. In fight, flight or freeze, I had always chosen to fight, but at that moment, I was mentally rooted to the ground.
And the helplessness that I feel now, thinking about it, thinking about the could haves and would haves and should haves… It’s exhausting, honestly. To not be able to trust yourself to stand up for the wrong done towards you by others, to freeze in a moment where no one else is there to fight for you, it’s… It’s terrifying. It is terrifying, more so than what actually happened.
Even as I conform, the consequences of my actions still haunt me for far longer than the action itself. And now, I’m not sure whether the act of trying to satisfy oneself immediately is better or worse than the mental pat on the back one gives themselves for following the rules like a well-behaved dog. Either way, consequences exist, and there is no right way or wrong way. The only way is that which happens. And what has happened is something I cannot change, no matter how much I wish I could.
A lot of what happened is simplified, and a lot of layers exist to what happened. There is a lot of shame associated with trusting someone you were told not to trust, someone who, in hindsight, showed all the signs indicating danger, but never at a level that actively crossed my radar. What I do share here is the bare bones of a much more intricate matter, but I realise that I needed to get to the root of the matter to truly face – and make sense – of what had happened. I saw the signs and I chose to ignore them, hoping that I was wrong. I chose to ignore the warnings I got from those closest to me in that moment of mental weakness, thinking that nothing bad had happened, therefore nothing bad would happen. But the world gives warnings for a reason, and ignoring them for the sake of ‘being peaceful’ is foolishness.
All I do hope is that the next time I see the line, I don’t immediately pull back from crossing it. The next time I’m faced with danger, I hope I don’t immediately freeze. I hope, I hope, I hope. But the thing I hope for the most?
I hope I never have to be in this position again.