“What’s a pretty thing like you doing working at a hardware store?” Asks a man with a half-smile, half-snarl, his hands stained with motor oil as he hands me a crinkled twenty dollar bill.
I work at a hardware store. The majority of customers are men. This week, another creepy, old man with a disheveled beard, brought in a sander to exchange. He placed it on the counter behind me, at the opposite register. I had a line at my counter, and felt uncomfortable not being able to see him behind me.
“Can I help you?” I turned around to ask.
He said, “I’m just here to return this… Wow, you look even more beautiful than you did yesterday.” I told him he can bring the sander over to my register. “Oh, I’m ok right here. I like looking at your hair, it’s so pretty.”
The ick factor landed in the pit of my stomach. I perceived a threat, which for me triggers anxiety and panic.
Ever hear someone say, “I need meeting.” Usually, this follows some kind of catastrophe, like a romantic break up. Saying “I need a meeting,” is the same as saying, “I need a drink.” Trouble is, I never found 12 Step meetings the proper place to talk openly about perverted men staring at me. Hell, perverted men frequent 12 Step meetings.
Consider these two realities: A history of rape is linked to substance abuse. Now, consider that sex and violent offenders are court ordered to A.A. meetings, and A.A. has refused to create safety rules protecting members from sexual harassment and other crimes. That is just plain sick, if not illegal. Plus, that means I don’t trust A.A.
Some people never learn manners, and this old man might have early dementia for all I know. I only took it personally because it was directed at me. It’s not like he said, “Bend over baby,” or something more derogatory. Calling for backup might make me feel more embarrassed. I’m sure the guys at work would defend me, but I don’t want a bodyguard.
I want to defend myself. I want to be intimidating and powerful. I don’t want to be a non-threatening, one hundred and twenty pound, “little thing”.
Making direct eye contact conveys too much interest. So I didn’t look at him, which shows fear instead. Later, I tell one of my male managers that this creep put me in a bad mood by staring at me for over ten minutes. He shrugs, and I shrug. Unfortunately, this does happen all the time. People are rude and insensitive, they feel like powerful men by treating women like objects.
Trouble is, as an abuse survivor, I’m triggered by feelings of being overpowered physically, sexually, or emotionally. This stranger triggered major feelings of powerlessness, and I wanted to react by crying, punching something, or drinking.
Today, I decided to write about it. I didn’t run to the bottle or to a meeting. I can’t build a wall between me and society, figuratively or literally. I don’t believe that former alcoholics are more sensitive to minor frustrations than the average person. The idea that someone in A.A. could have several years sober and needs to escape to a meeting disturbs me.
I don’t walk past a six pack of IPA and foam at the mouth. The smell of chlorine and freshly mowed grass don’t send me running to a keg. I get super annoyed when someone else’s spoon repeatedly scrapes the edge of a bowl, but it doesn’t drive me to drink. I can always stock the kitchen with plastic spoons.
I used to hear people say they “needed a meeting” because the dog next door wouldn’t stop barking. Why not just knock on the door and politely state your complaint? If your neighbor is a real jerk, make a police report. Meetings, or booze, do not solve anything directly.
I’m a strong willed person, a female and a feminist. I survived sexual trauma in the past, and now general misogyny triggers me. Author Gabrielle Glaser wrote in “Her Best Kept Secret,” that A.A. may not be the best approach for women and their particular struggles with drinking. And I agree, I’d be a fool, or a masochist, to go back the patriarchal recovery system of 12 Step meetings.
Not finding help in A.A. was a circumstance I needed to avoid because it triggered me.
I found it helpful reading, “Recover! Stop Thinking Like an Addict,” by Stanton Peele Ph.D. with Ilse Thompson. I learned there are circumstances I can avoid, or improve, that lead up to a relapse. As Peele writes, “Did your decision to indulge make you feel as if you were doing something?”
In general, I’ve found both men and women in A.A. could not relate to my triggers, or I was too uncomfortable to speak about them.
For example, I do feel more frustration in the summer. It gets warm and muggy outside in Ohio, and I can’t just “throw on” shorts or a swimsuit without removing every speck of hair that “shouldn’t” be there. Men don’t have to worry about a “nip” slip in the swimming pool. I just want to have a carefree summer, but it’s “illegal” and “inappropriate” for me to remove my shirt. This might sound idiotic to you, but to me they are real triggers.
So are creepy old men who stare at me. Must be that oversized work t-shirt and jeans I wear, covered in grease and saw dust, are too sexy to resist?
Today, I can choose how I react. If you’re offended by the hair stubble on my legs, than that is your problem, not mine. I don’t control other people or their behaviors, including perverts’ behaviors. I know when behavior crosses the line and how to react sanely.
My non-recovery friends, who aren’t specialists or experts in all topics, will listen to whatever problem I have without judgment. It calms me down. When my kids get my jokes, that makes me happy. When my kids don’t get my jokes, and they still laugh, it also makes me happy. In fact, I get the most out of life from people who have never been to an A.A. meeting. Go figure.
I am learning to focus on what I can do to make life better for myself, and my family. For instance, I’m getting better at making homemade pasta salad with fresh vegetables. I am obsessed with the flavor of red onions now. I make my own vinaigrettes with balsamic vinegar, olive oil and fresh minced garlic.
I’m not worried if I have garlic breath. And I don’t need to go to a meeting.
“The optimist sees a light at the end of the tunnel,
the realist sees a train entering the tunnel,
the pessimist sees a train speeding at him, hell for leather,and the machinist sees three idiots sitting on the tracks.”- German joke
The 13th Step Documentary—Visit this link & show some support for people speaking up against sexual predators in A.A.
I just started blogging at The Fix— very excited to be a part of that!
For information on harm reduction, abstinence, and moderation support please CLICK HERE for HAMS.