I remember when I was learning to shoot a gun. I never even held one until I was about 25. I was very scared of them because of things that had happened in my life – so learning to shoot one was a bit of a psychological Mount Everest.
I’ve dated marines, police officers, and army veterans. It wasn’t until a vet from the first Iraq war stuck and air gun in my hand in the woods and said “Time to stop the nightmares. We are starting here.” And helped me get over the first hump.
It was obvious by the awkward way that I struggled with the weapon that I’d never held one before. It was just an air rifle. The first shot hit the edge of the target. The second, the outer ring of the center. The third, dead center and the fourth went through the hole created by the third pellet.
I still remember the guys freaking out.
Later, I was up in the woods and an army sniper handed me a 12 gauge. He looked at me and said “This is your boomstick. It’s going to be loud, and it is going to kick like hell. We are all going to the gravel pit. Let’s see if you can do this with a real gun.” Because apparently my reputation had proceeded me.
The first shot was wild. He had taught me how to shoulder the weapon properly before hand, so it kicked but it didn’t hurt really. Inside about 3 shots the bullet was going exactly where I wanted it to.
The purpose of this story is a metaphor for parts of my life. I’m not really a gun nut, and while I know how to properly use them, I still pray every day that I never have to. I’d rather hang out and write and run around barefoot giving people flowers. Making dresses. That kind of thing.
I like doing it every once in awhile because of the incredible focus it takes holding a weapon like that. Unless I was in a bad situation (and all other options had been exhausted) I’d never shoot anything but a pumpkin. Or a target. But I could if I had to.
Shooting a gun was my Mount Everest. I had to climb it. There was once a very mean man in my life who had a gun, and thought that gave him the right to use it to threaten me. He knew I didn’t know how to shoot one. He would point it at me, and tell me that I was always going to do what he said. He used it as a power tool for manipulation and fear. The other guys – were there to help me conquer that fear.
I have a lot of respect for enlisted men and women and Vets. I’ve been very open about being in therapy. When I was in the critical parts of coming out of that abusive situation, I had a very wise therapist. She knew that the situations I had been in (kept in a closet for days. Intense psychological abuse, having my life threatened daily if I didn’t conform to certain standards of behavior, etc) she knew that the only way I was going to get better was to talk about those experiences. She also knew that there was no way I could do that in a group of normal men and women. My experiences were too extreme. She invited me to come to a support group that was mostly war veterans of all ages dealing with varying degrees of ptsd. It wasn’t limited to that, but that was the majority of the group.
I got to know those men and women really well, and I got to really be honest about my experiences with another human being. I was not judged, and I got to have men who were my peers…men who had been shot at, and seen things I can’t even fathom – look at me and hug me and tell me I was strong. That I could get through this.
Hearing their stories and the impact they made on my life is something I always carry with me. Regardless of how I felt about the war, or how they felt about it, they went and did their jobs. I kept that in my heart and with their help, I did mine. I got past it. We were all fighting our own private wars in that room a few times a week, but we did it together. We were all broken people and we sat there and put each other back together.
With their help, I climbed my mountain. I took that memory back, and I took back that power. I took the fear out of it. Also? Apparently I’m one fuck of a good shot.
It was so hard for me to pull that trigger the first time. Hear that bang. But I had to. Not because it was a gun, or out of anger or on some power trip, but because I was tired of living my life in fear of an object…a tool.
Little by little, since then, I’ve been taking my life back. Making it what I want it to be. Some days are better than others. Sometimes I still have nightmares…some days I still see the terrible things I went through…but I have skills to deal with that now. I have people I can call.
Those people gave me my heart back. No one can live without their heart.
They taught me not to flinch, they taught me the power in who I am, and what I went through. We may not have been through the same battles, but together we survived a war.
It doesn’t matter what you have been through, there is a way through it. The human spirit is incredibly resilient. Sometimes you just need a little help, you need some good friends to warn you when the bang is coming and help you not to flinch.