3 days ago
Friday, February 18, 2011
I am, this very moment, hearing my neighbors arguing. I live in a townhouse with reasonably thick walls, but yelling, loud music, and such can be heard pretty clearly.
This couple has a loud argument about once a month. They have done this for the last three years. Usually I immediately play music to drown it out, leave the house, or start up with an engaging video game until they are done. Usually lasts 15 minutes to half an hour, and then they seem to wind down. I try to avoid hearing them because (1) I really don't have any interest in knowing what my neighbors are doing, I am not nosy or gossipy by nature, but more importantly (2) hearing the sound of yelling in an argument makes me really, really uncomfortable. Scared. Angry. Sad. Confused. Then scared again. These arguments really, really upset me. I get a sensation that I'm going to freak out, and can't move fast enough to find a way to drown it out.
This is hardly a huge shock, given how I grew up. The yelling at us kids for stupid things. And worse, the yelling between my parents that would always be turned on us once they got tired of yelling at each other. I was raised in a chaotic environment where verbal abuse, loud and otherwise, was commonplace. And having been raised that way, it is again no surprise that I repeated this pattern of self-abuse by living with an emotionally and occasionally physically abusive boyfriend for five years. So I am understandably very touchy when it comes to couples yelling at each other.
The thing that makes this argument different is that I am intentionally not tuning it out. I've chosen to practice my mindfulness in this really uncomfortable situation. I'm going to sit here and listen to this. I'm going to feel what I feel. I'm not going to judge myself or try to keep from feeling unhappy. I'm just going to sit with this discomfort. I'm going to think thoughts, ask questions, but I'm not going to avoid anything. No avoidance. This is really hard. There is a rock in my stomach. My palms are sweaty.
And it is still going over there. Loud and scary. I can hear, actually hear, the sound of my parents arguing in my head. I feel like I am being yelled at, personally. This is a bad one even for the neighbors. It has already been a half hour. Why does a woman stand there and let a man call her a *uk#ing idiot? Why does a man stand there and let a woman call him a lazy bastard? These are somewhat rhetorical questions, since as I said I was in an abusive relationship, and at the time I thought I deserved the abuse. That I wasn't worth anything better. That I could never find anything better. I was also afraid to leave. I was afraid he would stalk me, hurt me. So yes, I get why people might do it. But ... but really. Now that I'm out of it, no, I don't get it.
Good grief, he is actually mocking her now. Mocking. A sing song voice. The tone makes me want to tear someone's eyes out. Wait. Now they are yelling about who is at fault that each one of them no longer has friends. Their words through the walls are loud and perfectly clear. I'm choking down pained laughter. If they would actually listen to themselves, the 'lack of friends' would be less of a mystery. I sure have no interest in them.
My husband and I never yell at one another. Not now, not ever. Not once. We've had a few heated arguments in the 17 or so years we've been together, but never yelling. Part of the reason, of course, is that I can't abide it. He is much less sensitive to it, given the normal volume of conversation in his house growing up was yelling, even when people were perfectly happy. But even so, he agrees it is much more pleasant without the constant noise.
Okay, now it is so loud it is garbled. Um. He's saying "You are an a$$hole to me. You haven't changed at all." She is too shrill to be understood. I realize I am actually afraid of ... of him doing something like ... well ... firing a gun. I have this image of a gun going off, and a bullet flying through the wall and killing me. How ... bizarre. I ... you know, I have that thought every time they yell over there. Somehow ... somehow I see their arguing as a direct threat to me. A threat to my life. Well, of course I do. But now that I think about it, that's me doing ...
Oh, for heaven's sake, I'm having a flashback. Of course I am. I don't mean to say I've been shot at. It's not that literal. I have Chronic PTSD, not trauma from a single event. When I flashback, I find myself caught in an amalgam of events; a mix of memories, some clear, some vague. So it takes me 45 minutes to realize I'm in the middle of a flashback. It does usually take a while since I don't have any visual symptoms. I don't 'see' the past. But I can hear it, smell it, even feel it. My eyes see 'now.' The rest of me is perceiving a blur of events from long ago. My heart is pounding, I can hear my parents yelling, at each other, at me. I am ... I am a little girl hiding in a corner.
And as soon as I started writing the above paragraph, I started feeling more normal. Realizing it wasn't 'real,' wasn't 'now' helped it go away. I have no evidence that things next door have ever gotten physical. Just yelling. There is no indication or evidence that any kind of violence has or will happen over there. My fear of being hurt is completely unfounded in the 'now'. It is entirely the past. I'm there, living it as if it were the present.
It's been an hour. They are finally done.
Was it worth it? Hmm. I'm an experimentalist, so it's hard to say an experiment was useless. Even a null result is a result. I didn't actually freak out. I had a flashback. I probably always do and never realized it before, even when I turn up the music, since I am always rattled for hours after they shut up. Running from it did not make the fear stop. I can't say confronting it made the fear stop, since I feel like total crap right now.
But if nothing else, I did just prove to myself that I can live through an argument. The yelling alone can't kill me. I did not 'freak out' any more than usual. And I also have some more proof about how tough it can be to tell the difference between a PTSD flashback and a nasty GAD anxiety attack. They seem so similar on the surface, but a flashback is more insidious. Darker. Deeper. Tangled.
Whatever. I deserve a reward. Chocolates. I know I shouldn't use food. Too bad.
Your Hostess With Neuroses
Image credit/info: The Sun Goes Down, gideon_wright on Flikr via Creative Commons, CC 2.0
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