Tag Archives: authority

facing the monster

This week I finally faced down the big bad monster.

A few months ago I wrote this post about my experience getting my first ever ticket for anything.  Two days after my 50th birthday, riding a wave of good self-esteem, it was as if I’d gotten into a headlong collision with a tractor trailer.  Really.

I know it sounds very over dramatic, and compared to everything in my life that HAS or COULD go wrong, getting a ticket should not have been a big deal.  But it was. A HUGE deal.  Not the ticket in and of itself, but the experience of it, which I described in the earlier post.

I had some decisions to make.  I was so tempted to just pay it and move on with my life.  That would’ve been the easiest thing to do even though it would have meant points on my license and the possibility of my insurance premium rising.  Finances are tight, and my sense of guilt at being “bad” and getting “caught” led me to want to throw myself on the mercy of the court.  But – even more than that, I was so shaken by my encounter with the officer, I felt like I needed to face him again and not feel so weak or afraid.  My hands and body literally shook as I signed the form that declared my plea “not guilty.” And then I waited to hear about my court date.

anxiety_0Overall I’ve been doing ok processing the experience, although I must say that I have had waves of anxiety about it at times.  It’s been a kind of free-floating anxiety because I didn’t know when it would be resolved, so I was living with this question mark over my head and on my shoulders.  It’s been taking up a lot of space in my thoughts and worries.  Fighting off the bad girl feelings.  I have had moments thinking about it that I have felt very weak and vulnerable – two feelings I despise.  When you grow up in an abusive/alcoholic home the two things you do NOT want to feel are weak and vulnerable.  You want to disappear from view, or be a strong superhero.

Well, a few weeks ago I got a letter from the court telling me my appearance would be on May 4th – so I had weeks to psych myself up for it.  I was tempted once more to just drop it, and go with whatever the court decided, saving myself from having to face the police officer who wouldn’t even look me in the eye when he handed me the ticket.  (Really, he never made direct eye contact with me.  If he were in a line-up I wouldn’t have been able to pick him out.)  Also, because of the authority issues I described when I got the ticket, he had become larger than life.  I didn’t want to face him.  But I knew it was important.  I needed to face the monster.

It was much different than I expected.  I’ve never been to court before except when I was picked for jury duty and when I divorced my first husband.  As I drove to the courthouse my heart was racing and I had to do a lot of positive self-talk.  “It will be alright.  You’ll be fine.”  I repeated Jesus’ words from a few weeks ago in worship reading:  “Peace be with you.”  “Peace.”  I continued this as I walked through the town hall and courthouse and went through the metal detector and was directed by the court’s officer to the corner of the courtroom where THE officer was standing.  There he was, the monster that wreaked havoc with my mental stability and self-esteem.  THERE HE WAS.

As I walked over to the officer – as I went to face the man who became a bully to me – I felt a wave of panic, and had to do a lot more self-talk to present myself in a respectful but strong manner.  This was the reality…  He didn’t look as tall as I remembered (which is logical since in my only other encounter with him I was sitting down and he was standing up).  He still didn’t look at me straight on, more like a side-glance, but his features didn’t seem as harsh (perhaps because I was seeing him in a fully lighted room and not outside in the dark).  He actually looked kind of SHY.  He also had a bit of a slouch to his shoulders.  Even with his uniform he didn’t seem threatening at all.  It was all a quite pleasant let-down.

He quickly asked me what he gave me the ticket for, I told him, and he responded with a lesser charge, which would NOT include points on my license.  And I quickly agreed.  After this I had time to sit and watch those ahead of me go before the judge, so I knew how to respond when it was my turn to walk up to the podium.  The sitting and waiting my turn was the longest part.  My brief conversation with the officer and my time before the judge?  Maybe five minutes.

When I walked out of the court my legs were shaky and I felt like I could’ve cried – FROM RELIEF.  All the build-up of five months was now gone.  I felt tired and spent.  I went home, took off my dressy court clothes, put my pajamas back on, and went to bed for a much needed nap.

I faced the monster – who really wasn’t a monster at all.  And I never would have known that if I ran away from the situation and taken the easy way out.  I’m glad I did it.  I just wish I didn’t need to.  I wish I didn’t have such issues with vulnerability and authority and power and control and anxiety.  But I do.  I’m working on them though – and facing a monster is a big step.  A big deal.

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authority

Remember last week when I posted about how proud I was of my birthday and thankful to be in a good place?  Yeah, that.

What a difference a week makes.

One of the things that can happen when you grow up in a house with alcoholism and/or other types of abuse is that you spend your life trying to fly under the radar.  You don’t want to call attention to yourself, you don’t want to stand out, you try VERY hard to play by the rules.  You do your best to BE the best because you take the responsibility of the whole world (or at the very least the survival of your family) onto YOUR shoulders.  Failure is not an option.  Yet you KNOW you’re not perfect.  In fact, you feel pretty badly about yourself, so fear and shame and embarrassment of being exposed are constantly hanging over your head.  You can’t let anyone see how imperfect you (and your family) are.  The other thing that happens when you have a history such as mine is that when it comes to authority figures you either develop a tough chip on your shoulder, or you shrink and become a timid, cowering shell (I am the latter).

I’ve worked for YEARS in therapy on this stuff.  I’ve worked for years OUT of therapy on this stuff – which is my way of saying, that “in or out” of therapy, the work is ongoing – because LIFE is ongoing.

So, something happened last week, right after celebrating my birthday, which has brought my sense of pride and confidence to a screeching halt, and it has to do with authority.

I got pulled over by a police officer last week.  I won’t go into details, because honestly I really am embarrassed about the whole incident, and I’m only telling you so I can discuss the larger authority issues and how I’m coping.

Here has been my response.  I stayed pulled over long after the police officer drove away – crying. Sobbing.  Unable to drive.  I called my husband from the car and he was able to “talk me down” so that I would be able to drive home.  When I got home I had a mini-breakdown.  I cried and sobbed and cried some more, giving myself a monster headache, crying myself to sleep and waking up the next morning with my eyes practically swollen shut from crying.  I’ve experienced massive anxiety (although not panic) every time I have gotten behind the wheel to drive since.  While I’m driving my anxiety is high, checking and double checking almost every move I make (or don’t make).  And I haven’t been sleeping well.

Last night I had to go to the same place I was travelling to last week and purposefully went out of my way to avoid the route I took then, because I couldn’t face driving past the spot where I was pulled over.  By the time I got home, I was in tears, shaking.  Another headache…

This reaction is more than the police officer, more than being pulled over.  It’s about how I cope (or don’t cope) with authority figures – with those who have real or perceived power over me.

This is about stripping away the facade.  This is about my failure to live up to the good girl image – of always trying to do the right thing, to follow the rules, to fly under the radar – of being caught and even called out for not being perfect, for falling short and being bad.  The feelings of shame and embarrassment have, at times, been overwhelming.  I’m walking around with a sense of dread, like the weight of the world is on my shoulders, and I’m failing.  I’m sure my husband would love to repeat the, “Snap out of it!” scene of Cher in “Moonstruck.”¹  Heck, I’d love to snap myself out of it too! Instead, what he IS saying is, “This happened.  Move on.  You’re going to make yourself sick.”

But moving on, removing the weight from my shoulders, is easier said than done.  Once those old weights of shame, fear and embarrassment hit, they don’t let up very easily.  It’s hard to move on when the ball and chain keep you from picking up your feet.

But there are a few things that give me hope that this won’t turn into a major episode.

  • I am recognizing my reaction for what it is – an authority figure problem.  I know this is more than my interaction with this one particular officer, and I’m not trying to ignore it, or hope it will just go away.
  • I am able to stick up for myself with my husband.  When, at one point, he started to feed the flames of my shame (without knowing it) I told him point blank, “You need to stop.  You are NOT being helpful.” To his credit he asked what he could do/say that would be helpful.  I told him, and he listened and responded (he’s a good guy!).
  • I am practicing good self talk.  Deep down I know that I’m not a horrible person.  This is the biggest change.  It used to be that deep down I knew I was a horrible person and had to convince myself otherwise.  Saying to myself, “You know you’re a good person Lisa, you’ll get through this,” is VERY different than, “This is just proof of how awful you are.”  I am actively combating the negative thoughts, with positive messages of my self worth, and accepting the love of my family.
  • I am using my anger positively to fuel my “moving on.”  I’m angry at the officer for being so cold and robotic.  I’m angry at my father for, well, EVERYTHING.  I was in a good place till this happened, and I will not let this drive me back to a dark place.  I’m channeling my anger OUT, and not IN.

Sometimes these things happen – events that remind us of pain and suffering, being brought back to places of shame and weakness.  Many times they hit us when we least expect it, and that too, is part of our reaction – “Damn it.  I thought I had gotten over this.  I didn’t see THAT coming.”  So the reaction isn’t just about the actual literal event, it’s about connecting it back to our past, and our SHOCK that we still make that connection.

It’s been a week.  Both my husband and I are keeping an eye on this.  If I don’t start to “lighten up” in what we both consider a reasonable amount of time, then I guess I’ll have to call the doctor.²  This is a difference from the past too, when I would keep all this stuff bottled inside and shut him out – a sign that, overall, I’m in a much healthier place.  Still, prayers and good thoughts are much appreciated. Thanks.


¹My husband has never EVER hit me.  I am the one who is thinking of this scene as an example of his feelings of frustration and concern, NOT him.  Actually it represents my own frustration with myself! I just wanted to make that perfectly clear.

²My reluctance to call the doctor comes not from a disrespect of the medical/psychiatric profession.  If you’ve spent any time reading this blog you know I have the HIGHEST respect for both therapy and medication.  I’ve gotten to where I am now BECAUSE of the work I’ve done in therapy.  But finances are tight, so if I possibly can, I’d rather handle this without having to pay a bill in the process.