Monday, December 2, 2013

What About the Bully in My Head?

On the weekend of November 9th, I took the IMPACT core program even though I don’t live in much fear about being attacked by an assailant. I’ve been taking public transportation in Chicago for 20 years and apparently I carry myself in a way that does not invite harassment. Still, the nightmare scenarios live in the back of my head that I might come home to a stranger hiding in a closet or wake up to find an intruder in my bed.

The goal of IMPACT self-defense is to incapacitate your attacker so you have time to safely walk away and call 911. One of the most valuable lessons IMPACT taught me was that a big unarmed man against a small unarmed woman does not have the advantage. I learned that if I can get in a good strong kick to a guy’s groin, chances are the fight will be over. More than that, I got the opportunity to practice physically slamming my knee/hand/butt into another person so I could get these moves into my body memory. If a man grabs me from behind or I wake up to find him sitting on top of me, how do I position myself so my knee is in the right place to slam into his crotch? IMPACT has shown me how.

As the weekend went on my classmates described how much more powerful they felt, but I didn’t share the feeling. As I obediently learned the moves, I felt increasingly detached from the class. Why? I eventually realized it was because IMPACT wasn’t helping me with my fears. I wasn’t afraid of men. I was afraid of the bully that lived inside my head.

A highly sensitive child, I took all my mother’s and society’s criticisms to heart. As a result, a cruelly judgmental voice has dominated my mind for as long as I can remember. That was the attacker I helplessly battled every day and no amount of throwing around male instructors could touch it. On Sunday morning I broke down in tears, telling the group how angry and scared I was that I couldn’t stop the asshole in my mind unless I took a knife to my brain. Our instructor was wonderfully responsive and everyone gave me as much time as I needed to express myself. I felt grateful that my strong emotions didn’t seem to make anyone uncomfortable. I felt heard.

As that final day went on, I began to feel less hopeless and more mentally present as we cheered each other through our “graduation” exercises. In the days that followed, I expected depression, since that’s the stress response I tend to have, but that bleak feeling didn’t return. Maybe going through the physical moves of fighting off an attacker resonated in my psyche. I don’t think IMPACT has made much difference in my physical safety, but it might have helped my inner feeling of safety. Maybe the body can teach the mind how to defend itself.

Regina Rodríguez-Martin
My blog: Chicana on the Edge

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