You know that part of your gut that tells you wise decisions in which you promptly ignore? It’s also the same part of your gut that knows you’re holding on to some trauma that your brain hasn’t processed.
You should probably start listening to that part of your gut unless you want to lose-your-shit at a Laser Tag Team Building Exercise.
I’m not a gun person. I’m so not a gun person that the one time I shot a real gun at a range with my parents, I promptly set the thing down, walked in to the bathroom, and hyperventilated until the automatic lights turned off with me sitting in the stall.
Rule #1 to losing your shit: Deny your emotional response to tragedy.
I don’t think I’ve always had this phobia of guns. Up until a few years ago I might have been somewhat ambivalent about them. But now, well, things have changed in the world, my world, our world, and I am no longer uncertain about my thoughts on guns.
When a tragedy strikes, everyone feels *something*. When the Newton shootings happened, the whole nation, in fact a majority of the world, shook their heads and sighed and went home to hug their children tighter. I was closer to the tragedy, in a way I didn’t feel I had any right to claim “effected” because my relationship to the youngest victim was a short playdate earlier that summer. He was the nephew of our good family friends and my son and his cousin knew each other well. Very well. So when I text my girlfriend to see when we are getting together and she replies, “That’s Noah’s school on tv,” I left work and ran to her house as quickly as I could arriving with Kahlua and Diapers: the essential survival kit of tragedy with a small baby at home.
I was there as much as possible for the following weeks, and I saw a family deal with something nobody should ever have to deal with. I saw the variety of emotions and different ways of grieving. I saw people stand up to offer support and others avoid having to say anything at all because what is there to say?
I never once thought I was going to need to work on my own issues of having seen someone close to me go through such horror, having known the face of a victim, and the emotions of going home to my own family; Guilt, Fear, Hate, Worry, and a very intense hatred of guns.
Rule #2 to losing your shit: Ignore Your Wise Gut-feeling
When my team proposed a laser tag outing, I admit it wasn’t top on my list of things to do. I should’ve listened to that small voice saying, “You hate guns.” Instead my brain part said things like, “We’ve been trying to get together for a year,” and “it’s fine, they are just toys,” and “It’s been a long time now, common, it wasn’t even your nephew.” So we booked our night out and included a party bus.
I know I wasn’t super excited about it but I figured it would be fine. Plus, there’s the alcohol. Surely I would be able to handle a pretend toy gun if I’ve had enough wine, right?
Rule #3 to losing your shit: Numb the Wise Gut-feeling with Wine
We were all enjoying adult beverages. In fact, on the way over to the venue, having just left a work party, we were all feeling relaxed. I wasn’t even the most “relaxed” of the group. But, and this is something I can admit to now, I was getting more and more fearful of the laser tag event and in a flurry of panic, decided to catch up to those more “relaxed” than I was.
Rule #4 to losing your shit: Shove away the feelings from another, similar, scary tragedy that happened hours earlier just up the road
I checked my phone after a few meetings and found a voice mail from our school district informing us of a shooting at a nearby school. Without thinking, I grabbed my headphones and went for a walk to call Mr. Flinger. It’s how I’ve always dealt with bad or scary news since I was 13 years old: I call him and he talks me out of the crazy or he breathes with me while I try to remember how to breathe.
It was the middle of the day and I had work to finish. I also had that team outing in a few hours so I couldn’t get too down and let my emotions get the better of me. So we chatted for twenty minutes while I walked and tried to breathe and come to some sort of understanding about why I was so affected by that news.
I told a project-team-member and her reply struck me as odd. “Was that your kids’ school?” Surely if there was a shooting at my child’s school, I would run to be as close to them as I could without a single word of explanation and certainly not a casual conversation. She followed up with her thoughts on school shootings. I can tell you this: sometimes the best way to reply to horrible news, even if it seems completely unattached from you or your coworker, is to just say, “Wow. I can’t imagine.”
Without realizing it, because I was trying very hard not to realize it, the news brought up a lot of memories, emotions, and feelings I’ve never given myself the permission to feel because *my* kids are safe and my family is ok. What right do I have to be affected by shootings?
A side note: We should all be affected by the news of shootings. The minute we stop being affected, we as humans lose the ability to empathize. It’s unrealistic to expect everyone to just lose their shit about every tragedy, but we should never stop feeling the feelings that this is not ok and we have to do something.
Rule #5 to losing your shit: Re-enact the scary thing that produces those emotions after trying to ignore them and cover them with wine
The minute I had the gun in my hand, it was too heavy, too real, and I was shooting at targets. I got, how shall I say, “mouthy,” as you do around a bunch of dudes who are holding guns in their hands. I might have said something about being scared and the wise gut-part of me started yelling that I truly shouldn’t be doing this. So I tried to play along, poorly, and half way through was escorted out of the laser tag maze. Apparently cussing is not allowed and y’all, lemme say this: I was fucking cussing a lot because there were zombies coming at me and I was shooting them with a fucking gun.
Yea, the cocktail of losing my shit had perfectly mixed.
I sat down, thankful for being out of the fucking zombie attack, and started to shake. I still couldn’t put a finger on WHY I was so effected. Up until a friend asked if I was ok, and I was not ok, and the tears and sobs like a choking cow came poring out, I would’ve answered I was fine.
And there, in the laser tag bar, without a seemingly rational reason, I lost my shit and bawled in the arms of four co-workers and blubbered on about a little boy who was killed and why are we killing each other and what is wrong with our children that they have to take lives? How can we raise children to be confident and happy when I can’t even be sure that they will be safe in their cafeteria? Or their classroom? I know the innocence of my 7 year old, the way he thinks about the world and I sobbed because there was a family who will never hear what their 7 yr old boy would’ve said as he started second grade or soccer or birthday parties.
That’s how I lost my shit on a Friday night with my teammates. That’s probably what we call a royal fuckup and in the true professional sense, I should probably go shove my head in the sand and start applying to other jobs. But at the same time, if I can be completely candid, WE HAVE TO START TALKING ABOUT THIS. It’s why we’re all so shocked when Robin Williams kills himself or when another shooting happens across the street from our office. It’s the reason we are so numb and fake and perfect. It’s why we value people with no real emotional bank and why some CEOs are only shells of actual people. I don’t say the right things all the time, or half the time, but I’m smart and a hard worker and I’m doing fairly well at my job. I have great feedback and I enjoy my work. But I know just yesterday when a friend at work admitted to having a hard week and said, “I can’t say that here. To anyone,” it’s a sign that we’re not allowing our work to have real-life people working there. I don’t want to work somewhere that I can’t be human. *These opinions are mine and not my employers. *
“It’s not personal, it’s business.” It’s always personal. It’s personal because we’re people. And sometimes, in a perfect storm of bullshit, a person will lose their eferloving mind in the face of news and tragedy. I might not have handled that with grace, but I handled it as a person, a mom, a fiend, a co-worker, and a human.
I hope I’m forgiven for being those things. And I know the next time someone else is human, I’ll offer a breath, a hug, and forgiveness.