My husband was driving as we pulled into the parking lot of the dispensary where I purchase my medical marijuana. Since lockdown, I’ve been placing my orders online and using the curbside service to pick them up. But this time, I’d waited too long, so my order had been canceled. Which meant I had to go inside for the first time since before lockdown.
I’d been inside public places since COVID began, and I’ve been working through my anxiety over wearing a mask. Over touching things while outside of my home. Over being around strangers who could be infected. Who could be dangerous? But this would prove to be a much different experience than any other I’d had.
As my husband told the security officer I’d go inside, I felt myself become agitated. I felt frazzled that my order had been canceled. Which meant I had to remember my order once inside. And since it is a struggle for me to go inside anywhere, having to speak to someone and to stand around and wait added another layer of anxiety. So I wasn’t looking forward to it. And the dispensary is one of my favorite places to go.
I started getting out of the car before my husband came to a complete stop. A sign I was starting to disconnect. Then, as I walked along the sidewalk toward the door, the security officer reached with his left hand across to his right hip, which was hidden from my view, pulled something out and started to say, I need to take your temperature, as he pointed the device toward my forehead, but I could no longer hear him. I had been triggered.
My body reacted as if he’d put a gun to my head. I shouted, I have PTSD, and put my hands up. To surrender. To try to stop the invisible bullet in its tracks. Then all sound stopped. I could no longer breathe. I felt myself leave my body.
Moments later, the first thing I saw as I came to was the alley near the back of the building. I was bent down. Hands on knees. Gasping for air. As if I’d just tried to outrun the invisible bullet. As I tried to remember where I was, everything was covered in a haze. Like a dream. I still heard nothing but my husband was yelling for me to get back into the car. I saw him say the words when I turned my head over my shoulder to get my bearings.
I got into the car. I could hear now, but I still couldn’t speak. My husband drove around to the area for curbside pickup. And as the employee came to my husband’s window to take my order, the security officer came with him to apologize. I heard my husband tell him I was okay. I could hear in the officer’s voice how terrible he felt, and I knew he understood my pain. Something that doesn’t happen for me very often. I nodded to acknowledge his compassion but was still unable to speak.
As I rubbed my forehead to stimulate my thinking, I was able to process enough to look up my order on my phone. Not only do my motor skills short circuit when I’ve been triggered, but my thinking gets foggy too. I handed my phone with my order to my husband, and he and the employee made arrangements as I smoked the last of my medical marijuana. And it helped bring me closer back to myself.
I drank some cold water through a straw. It helps me not to choke as the water enters my body. Especially after I’ve been triggered. I could feel it run down my esophagus. I sprayed some stress-relief spray and put a stress-relief lozenge in my mouth. By the time I felt fully present again, my order was ready.
As we pulled out of the parking lot, I rolled down my window to tell the security officer not to feel bad. That it wasn’t him, it was me. That I didn’t blame him. That this happens for me often. And then through his mask, I saw him smile. Relieved that I was not upset with him. That I was okay. Then the guard next to him put his hands up in a prayer-like motion toward his forehead, sending me his blessings. A moment I feel blessed to have had.
The moment I was a white woman with my brown husband and had become triggered — my mental health taking a fear-filled turn. The moment black security officers treated me with care instead of anger, fear or confusion. The moment they listened to me and to my husband. An exchange that could have transpired much differently had our roles been reversed — had I been a white officer with an agenda.
It brought to light everything that Black Lives Matter stands for. What black men, women and children must face when dealing with an authority who has sworn to protect them. The intergenerational trauma must pulse through their veins. The terror they must feel. The pressure to act a certain way. A way I couldn’t have acted in that moment. In the moment I fell into a fight-or-flight response. Because that’s what my body is programmed to do. A reaction I was allowed to have. A reaction I had the privilege to have.
After we left, my husband told me that, right when I had been triggered, both security officers expressed concern over my well-being. Then they followed up after to make sure I was okay. They helped me feel acknowledged and understood. They helped me feel safe. They showed me compassion — something we all could use a little bit more of.
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