This week, Courtney shares a post about a fear that’s been growing out of control over the past year and how she’s taking steps to minimize it. Read on for this week’s essay on COURAGE!
A few weeks ago, I wrote about my anxiety and how it’s been growing over the past year. One of the things I mentioned that causes me a lot of anxiety is the fear that someone will break into my home while I’m asleep and assault me, or worse, assault my sister.
I had my first experience with a potential home invader about two and a half years ago when I was living with my boyfriend at the time and a Marine roommate (who was also a brown belt in jiu jitsu). I was home by myself one night. My boyfriend and roommate both worked at bars downtown. I wasn’t sure what time they were supposed to be home, but I was working at the dining room table when I heard the doorknob turn.
At first I assumed it was my boyfriend, off early. But the handle kept jiggling and no one came in. Both the cats ran to the front door, obviously thinking the same thing as me. The handle stopped jiggling, but no one walked inside. I texted my boyfriend and our roommate, “Did either of you just try to come inside?”
No, they responded. They were still downtown at work. At this point, I’d darted away from the table to my bedroom to grab my pepper spray and relocate to the hallway, where there were no windows. Whoever was out there, I didn’t want them to see that I was a girl at home alone. The door handle jiggled again, and I knew for sure I hadn’t imagined it. Fear flooded my body. If someone got in, I didn’t know if it’d be better to lock myself in a bedroom or use the element of surprise to hide on the other side of the hall and pepper spray them when they walked by. A dozen different scenarios and thoughts flashed through my mind. Maybe it was more than one person. Maybe the pepper spray wouldn’t stop them. Maybe they had a gun. Maybe I should risk darting in front of the window to grab a knife from the kitchen. But maybe it wasn’t a thief. Maybe it was someone who’d been watching and waiting for an opportunity to come in. Maybe it was someone who knew exactly what I was—a girl at home alone.
My roommate texted me back to let me know where he kept his personal firearm, and he told me he was coming right over to check everything out. A car alarm next door went off, and I thought maybe this potential intruder was simply walking up to dark houses and seeing if they could get in. I’d texted my parents at this point, too. My dad told me to turn on all the lights in the house, which I did. Soon my roommate arrived. He got out his gun and walked around the house a few times, ever the Marine, securing the perimeter. All was deemed safe and sound. But that’s not what it felt like inside me.
For the next few weeks, I tried not to be at home by myself at night, which was impossible since both my boyfriend and roommate stayed out until almost 3:00 a.m. on work nights. When the front door opened, I awoke suddenly, my eyes wide and alert. I stared into the darkness of my room waiting to hear them tossing keys onto the table, grabbing a drink of water from the fridge, or chatting about their respective nights. Although it woke me up, I felt such relief when I knew it was one of them and not an intruder. I couldn’t shake the feeling that if someone had come in that night, it wouldn’t have gone well for me because I’d had no idea what to do.
This was the first experience. The second one didn’t happen to me, but it still haunts me to this day. A year or so after this first incident, my boyfriend and I broke up. Despite breaking up, we were still friends and occasionally chatted about this and that with each other. My sister and I had decided to move in together, and it wasn’t in the best neighborhood, crime-wise, but the house was amazing. I was talking to my ex, and he told me a horrific story about our former Marine roommate’s friend. She was at home alone with her kids, middle of the day, and a man broke in, beat her, and sexually assaulted her. I could tell it upset my ex-boyfriend, and he just needed to get it off his chest. But I haven’t been able to forget that story. What would I do? What would I do? It’s hard to feel safe in my own house when every bump, every mysterious sound brings these two incidents rushing to the forefront of my mind.
I didn’t admit how much these two instances were plaguing me until I wrote a short story a few months ago about girls being afraid of the dark and the wolves who come to eat them. After I re-read it and realized what it was actually about (this fear of being assaulted in my own home), after I wrote that post about anxiety and admitted to myself how much it’s been affecting me, I realized it was time to take some action. No need to sit around in fear, losing sleep, when there are things I can do to prepare myself.
My dad’s advice has always been to get my firearm license. This is sound, logical advice. Despite my mostly liberal views, I have extremely conflicting feelings about gun control, especially when it comes to people defending their homes (which I support). Still, I don’t feel that owning a gun is a good option for me at this point.
So my next option is to learn self-defense. Last month I signed up with a nearby gym called Lions Krav Maga to take three classes a week. Krav Maga is known for its practical defense techniques in real-life situations. We train with fake knives and fake guns, and we’re taught how to react “on the street.” We practice yelling for people to call 911. We practice yelling at our would-be attackers to “stay back!” We practice disengaging and then running away to safety. We get to kick and punch people hard, so we’ll know what it’s like in real life (with pads of course). I’ve been on the ground with a 250-pound man on top of me, simulating choking me, and I’ve thrown him off. I know it would be different in a real-life situation, but I can’t help but feel a budding confidence. I come away from my classes completely exhausted and sore but grinning from ear to ear because it feels so damn good to actually be doing something.
I hope I never have to use these techniques in real life, but as I continue my education (I’ve got so much more to learn), at least I’ll know how to if I ever need to. I’ll sleep soundly again, a lion among wolves.
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