Thirty years without contact with someone – anyone really, is a long time. We evolve, we grow and change – we become new and hopefully more enlightened versions of ourselves. We’re older, possibly even wiser – our discernment and judgement are more acute and refined. The world has turned, most things are not the same – but when I even consider seeing Ed face-to-face I feel anxiety that takes me back to childhood.
I’m not who I was thirty years ago, and I’m definitely not the helpless, vulnerable child I was fifty years ago – I know that, but logic and reason hold no dominion here. Here, I am just Ed’s child; powerless and afraid.
The day Rhonda met Ed for the first time, I had just turned twenty one. I was usually cocky, funny and passably self-assured in those days, but in Ed’s presence Rhonda immediately noted the changes in me; slight irritability and a marked inability to sit still and engage in small talk – she also saw the beads of sweat on my brow and let me know that my hand, which was holding hers, had become sweaty. My sense of humor and self assurance had left the building, and I allowed Ed to dominate the moment entirely. Inside, my heart was racing and my stomach ached.
At first, Rhonda thought I was just reacting to the stress and tension of the initial meeting between she and my father. Although she also noted my reaction was rather extreme to be only that, she didn’t make too much of it until, through subsequent meetings, she realized my anxiety returned every single time I was around Ed. She questioned why he unnerved me so completely, but I didn’t know or understand it myself then; I only knew I felt it and that the feeling was profound.
And I feel it today even thinking about seeing him – it is a phantom feeling, more recollection of past feelings than current fear or anxiety, but it is acute …
How do I stand in the presence of a man who beat and humiliated me – made me plead for mercy he never gave and not feel anxious? How do I occupy the same space as Ed without feeling the full impact of remembered fear and pain? How do I do that and not have flashbacks?
I don’t want to go back, I can’t go back. I won’t go back.
I am more afraid of what I will feel, standing in his presence, than I have words to describe. I’m not afraid of him, not anymore, but I am afraid of what being near him might do to me. The heart palpitations, the stomach ache and nausea, the irritability, the clammy skin, the need to move constantly, the sense of hopeless dread – all the things that come from having Anxiety Disorder – are all the things I never want to experience again, especially in front of Ed.
I am confident now. I am secure and successful, I am who I want to be. I worked hard for these things – harder than I should have had to work for them, and I’m not going to sacrifice the positive feelings that come from knowing and liking who I am for the despair that accompanies anxiety.
A face-to-face will have to wait a while longer, until I’m sure within myself Ed no longer has the power to unnerve me or undo all the work I’ve done to get well.