Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Serious Matters

After my mopey Friday Fun and a variety of leading Facebook and Twitter posts, I've had a lot of friends express concern for what is going on. It's nice to feel a community around, but it is strange at the same time. I am not typically a public person with my feelings and tend to be somewhat secretive about life in general. And yet, now I want to run out and scream at the world.

Last weekend, I was cleaning a keg during our usual Sunday brewing session. I had gotten out of the city the two nights before to clear my head after some pretty torrential life changes at home. I was still distracted, but I was following the mantra of keeping busy to keep my mind from exploding all over the place. The keg in question is an old style that is sealed with a wooden bung pounded in a hole in the side. To remove the bung, you screw a wood screw in and pop it out with a hammer.

After cleaning the keg and pushing sanitizer out through the tubing, I moved it into position to rack the beer from the fermenter. After pushing the liquid out, you need to release the CO2 pressure in the keg. I was distracted. I forgot to bleed the pressure. When I pulled the bung, it blew out at me with the force — and sound — of a gunshot. More than a week later, I can still feel the spot on my sternum where the bung hit. What's worse is my head.

Every part of the explosion forced me to re-experience the shooting. I melted down, stumbling into the yard behind the brewing garage, sobbing. Thankfully, a friend was there who happens to be a counselor at the VA. He stood with me for a while, until I was calm enough to join my partners again.

Everybody was very quiet after that. Except for a friend of a friend who said I should just meditate and readjust my attitude about the trauma from the shooting. I don't remember his exact words, but that was the gist. I snapped at him that it wasn't that easy, and he didn't understand.

In truth, I wanted to scream at him. I wanted to scream, DON'T YOU FUCKING UNDERSTAND? NO. BECAUSE NO ONE FUCKING UNDERSTANDS. NO ONE UNDERSTANDS. And I would have repeated it over and over until I couldn't scream any more.

That's when I realized I had never really faced down and dealt with the trauma from the shooting. I had covered it over with a therapist who never really tackled it head-on, and I had covered over it a year and a half ago when I decided I would just let it go. Except I hadn't. It was far from gone, and small things triggered my fight-or-flight responses — small things I never tied to the experience. All I knew was that I was just under pressure and stress and snapping at the people around me.

Thanks to the friend who stood with me that morning, I began to realize what I hadn't recognized for the past four years. I jump at small noises. Big noises are impossible. I snap far too easily when the kid does something she shouldn't. I get jittery if I'm cornered or trapped. Crowds make me very, very uncomfortable. Sharing a space too closely is very difficult for me. And more. Sometimes I would react to things; sometimes I would just swallow the feeling.

In the end, then, I became that keg. I never released the pressure. I might bleed a bit as I was talking to my therapist and others, but what was really happening was the pressure was building up and building up. When I did release it, I still didn't recognized what was going on, so the pressure just began to build up again.

And in the end, I'm left wanting to scream at a random acquaintance: NO ONE UNDERSTANDS.

I hate the fact that I am re-living this trauma — and will need to go back into a different kind of therapy to tackle it. I hate the fact that writing this has left me trembling. I hate the fact that I see that keg and that gun as the same thing. I hate the fact that a popping balloon nearly left me in a puddle yesterday. I hate the fact that I am even jumpier around people than I was before.

But I'm grateful for it, too. It's like waking up from a long, boozy, bad dream. I've been shown an important lesson. The hard part will be learning it, but maybe just maybe I'll remember it. And maybe I will be able to make other people understand better, because I will understand it myself.