The thought of returning to my old high school decidedly raises my heart rate. I can smell the hallways, the malodorous cacophony of teenage armpits, old textbooks, and general puberty angst. I pause as I reminisce about the teachers, how my anxiety made seemingly simple tasks like crossing a packed hallway to get to my locker seem overwhelming. Seriously- how does it take that long to get from one side of the hallway to the other…
A couple of months ago, I was on Instagram minding other people’s business, when an old high school friend posted that she was on the planning committee for our ten year high school reunion. Planning committee?! Ten years?! This shit was legit.
I know my triggers. Any minute now, it’ll feel like someone’s hands are gripping my waist, pulling me back with each step I take. Instead of physically falling over, a sensation mimicking what I imagine drowning feels like will wash over me. I can’t scream underwater. Any thoughts I have will be an internal monologue. I know my triggers.
Maybe this time will be different; I consider, it’s just an Instagram story post. We’ve seen hundreds, if not thousands of these. To keep the hands at bay, I instantly turn off the ‘gram and try to focus on what brought me joy in high school. At the time, I would seek external validation from teachers and academic success, but the As on my report cards and encouraging words from admin staff wasn’t enough; it put a band-aid on what I was trying to bury, but those hands were still scratching at the surface, chiseling away at me. My favorite memory, what brought on ecstasy, was popping in my favorite burnt mix CD into my scratched CD player, turning the headphones all the way up, putting a chair in front of my bedroom door thinking that could actually substitute a lock, and letting loose.
Minus shutting my bedroom door, I still do the same thing. The CD player has morphed into different Pandora stations on my phone, the confines of my bedroom have expanded to my whole apartment. As I raise the volume and krump, twerk, gyrate and pop to late 90s and early 2000s rappers, it’s not enough. Not this time. Bending at the waist, perfect to drop down and twerk sumthin’, I start hyperventilating. Feeling like I’m simultaneously drowning and someone is squeezing the essence out of me.
God dammit. No matter how many songs I shake to, there’s still a pressing memory of how I’d avoid certain hallways in that box of a school. Knowing his class schedule, when his lunch break was, I’d briskly run into the bathroom, cafeteria, classrooms early to avoid his gaze. At home, after showering, I’d scramble eyes half closed, fully naked to my bedroom to not have to catch a glimpse of the blackish purple splotches on my back.
I held off on writing this blog post, thinking if I waited a little longer, I’d have a positive ending. I could write some inspirational couple of sentences about understanding triggers, self-care, healthy coping practices, etc. The truth is that the thought of returning to that school, to that same neighborhood, of seeing once mutual friends before sides were taken and connections lost, brings on an encroaching anxiety attack and scares the shit out of me. And that’s ok. Leaving an abusive relationship doesn’t automatically erase the brain re-wiring, doesn’t eliminate the triggers, the side affects, the insecurities. And accepting that part of myself inspires me to work towards a better self.
But still- I’m declining any invitation I may get to this reunion. I’ll stay home and bump Ludacris’ Word of Mouf album instead.