Cold Heartless Action. It’s How I Cope. Please Don’t Run Away.

When life gets bloody, dangerous and heart wrenching, my emotions shut down and I become a shell. I call this reaction to stress my cold heartless action phase.

This phase kicks into overdrive in times of desperate need. It allows me to survive rather than breakdown into a worthless puddle of panic. However, everyone does not understand it, which sometimes makes me appear uncaring, heartless or slightly crazy.

For example, the other day, a dog started chasing my horse. This is not a good scenario by any means, but its even worse when you are sitting on the horse being chased. As my horse moves into full panic mode from the dog’s sudden threatening appearance, she thrashes around. In this moment, I vividly remember, the months of pain I endured from my last fall a few years prior. In effort to avoid this, I manage to rush my impending fall some by leaping from her. Shortly after that, she runs and the dog chases her. And, all I can do is watch her run away in terror.

I hobble back to the barn in hopes she has run that direction. To my relief she is there, but my heart drops when I see her. She looks frantic and is panting and bleeding (from running into things in effort to get away from the dog). Fear hits me for a second. I am alone at the barn and have never seen my horse injured. I stand there staring at her for a moment, unable to move. I don’t know what to do. Then, cold action kicks in. I have no time for tears. She needs my help. (And if you know anything about horses, it is that you cannot be in a panic while trying to calm them down.) I have no choice but turn off my emotions as they will just hinder me in helping her.

I think this cold heartless action has always been in me, but I think deployments are where I really developed it into an art. Don’t get me wrong, I have managed to be extremely fortunate on my three deployments. I am not a super soldier who kicks in doors and descends from the sky. Nonetheless, I have experienced some moments of danger and learned how to cope with them—generally, by going cold and emotionless.

Mortars were a fairly regular occurrence in Iraq and Afghanistan, at least during my deployments. They would fall at different times of the days in various places. Sometimes they were closer. Louder. Shook you more. At one point you realize, that you can either run around in a constant “the sky is falling” terror or deal with it the best way you can. My reaction was to make jokes and pretend it was no big deal.

On one particular “mortar Monday,” I was driving in Iraq. As I neared my office, I heard the whistle. Since I was driving and alone, I really had nowhere to go, so I remained in the safest place—my up-armored suburban. I stopped on the side of the road, just as a few other military vehicles did. I could hear a few more rockets come in. The ground shook. I shook. Then, I looked over at some Iraqi soldiers. They were still in formation and marching. Did they not hear the rockets? Could they not feel the tremors? And in that moment, I realized, they were used to them, knew when it was time to take shelter, and were coping by going on with life. There was nothing I could do either. I could not move my vehicle around the growing traffic (which was the bomb squad coming to remove one of the unexploded rockets that landed). So, I opened a book and started to read. Right there, on the side of the road, as a few other explosions went off, I read…and the Iraqis marched.

In the Army, there is a problem called complacency. It’s when you are so used to certain events that you no longer follow the right procedures. I always thought that complacency and coping where a very thin line. In many of my memories, I don’t think I was complacent. I was doing what I was supposed to. I was taking precautions. I just could not stop the situation that was unfolding. So to avoid just sitting there in a ball, rocking back and forth with my arms wrapped around myself, I typically choose action. And the only way to get to the point where I can act, I have to stop the feelings that would immobilize me.

This shutdown of emotions is particularly convenient in relationships. Well, to an extent. I seem to have a natural talent for selecting men who rip my soul apart. I know that part of it is that when I am in, I am all in. I give it all I have. I am passionate. Therefore, when the torment comes, it rips my heart to shreds.

A few years ago, I dated a wonderful man. He showered me with love, affection, and time. It was a dream to have such attention and friendship after my divorce. We took trips together. We went to church. We were practically inseparable. As our time together passed though, I started to notice a jealously. He would get upset about the time I would spend with others. Since my time away from him was actually pretty small and typically with my family, friends, pets or myself, I was starting to feel a bit smothered. I pressed on though as I figured it was just an insecurity of his that needed to be worked through. I knew I was not doing anything wrong. I wasn’t going any places for him to worry about. (Unless going to work in coed environments, movies with your kids, and the barn to see your horse where now deemed in the ‘wild girl’ category.) He was starting to make up scenarios in his head though. He was imagining I didn’t care. I tried to reassure him, but it was apparently not enough.

At the time this was all building, my mother passed away. She had been ill with lymphoma. My family knew it was coming. My sisters and I had traveled to visit with her—to say our goodbyes. Regardless, it was still a hard time. Shortly after our farewell visit with mom, she passed. We made the arrangements to travel again, to hold her memorial ceremony. And in my true nature, I shut down. I just went into cold heartless action mode. I wasn’t very chatty. I didn’t cry. I simply did the things that needed to be done. There was no time for me to break down.

My sisters and I went to my parent’s home for the ceremony. I did not invite my boyfriend as it was just my sisters, my dad and I staying at the house. We needed that time alone together. I did constantly text the boyfriend on my whereabouts and thoughts though. Just landed. Taking dad to dinner. This is weird with mom not being here. I worried about… So, it was not like I left him in some communication blackout wondering if I was alive. I just didn’t feel like talking on the phone particularly and wanted to spend that time with my family. And, I knew that once I started to talk, I would breakdown and cry. I couldn’t do that yet. Things needed to be done. I needed to be the strong one.

However, on the third day of my trip, which was the day of the funeral, my boyfriend had an attitude. Sensing this over text, I called him to ask what was up. He was “tired of begging for my attention.” He “couldn’t do this anymore.” I tried to explain that I simply didn’t want to talk about what I was going through while I was going through it. I needed to be with my family. I explained that he was important to me and I would let him comfort me when I came home, but for now, I had to comfort others first. It wasn’t enough for him. He wanted more, and I had no more to offer at that point. So, he said he was done.

Yes, he really did break up with me on the day of my mother’s funeral. My cold front turned into an arctic blast. I had no energy left to deal with more. And, I was devastated to my core that he did not understand me still. It is not like we didn’t have arguments before. He knew about my shutdown when I was hurt, scared and stressed. We had discussed it. I just needed time to grieve, to help my family. I needed time to process what was happening. I needed him to be there and be the strong one when I came home. Instead, he abandoned me when I needed him the most.

By the time I flew home two days later, he was sorry. He wanted to get back together. Unfortunately, that was the last straw for me. If he couldn’t give me time to grieve, how could he endure it if I deployed again? How could he support me when I needed it, if I had to constantly reassure him? He couldn’t because everything would have been about him. I had that before. I did not need it again.

I look back at these events and can’t decide if they were pivotal moments that honed my cold heartless action art or if they were moments where my emotionless ability protected me from the insanity of life. Maybe there were a little of both? I like to think my emotional shutdown has been a useful scar from life. It keeps me functional. It makes me strong. Dependable. Reliable. I worry that people find me uncaring and heartless though. They don’t understand my retreat into quiet. They are confused at how I just move on.

However, that is not it. I do feel. I do get scared. I do want someone to help me and be at my side. I have just spent so long alone with only myself to trust that I have no choice. No one has ever taken the time for me to completely defrost. They think the chill is an attack on them, when it’s only a way to protect myself and cope with stress. I hope that one day, someone will realize all it takes is a gentle hand and patience to warm my heart. If they only wait for the cold heartless action phase to pass, I’d welcome their comfort and support. I’d let them into my life. If only they would show me I could trust them to be there and not abuse and abandon me, I could allow myself to feel. I could cry. I could scream. I could let someone else take the action and I would gladly allow them to make me feel safe. Until that happens though, I will survive what life throws at me alone, and if that requires a cold heartless reaction at times, so be it. I just hope someone finds be before my heart freezes entirely.

How September 11th Changed Me

On September 11, 2001, I was in Hawaii. Yes, I was in paradise, but even there, the world stopped.

I remember getting a predawn phone call from our family in the main land. They told us what was going on and we immediately got out of bed and turned on the news. We watched the second plane hit, and just like the rest of the world… our hearts stopped.

My high school-sweetheart husband was in the Army. I had just completed my basic training with the Army Reserve, and that upcoming weekend was to be my first drill weekend. So, we immediately thought like Soldiers.

We checked the kids. We called friends and other family members. We gathered all the information we could from the news. We secured the house. We reported our status with our units. And, in between all of that, we knew, our duties as Soldiers were forever altered.

As the facts unfolded throughout the day, fear was in the air – even in Hawaii. The military gates were on lock down and only the select few were allowed access. Schools were closed. Traffic was sparse as everyone stayed in place. It was as though the world was partially frozen and moving in slow motion.

The trepidation touched even the youngest of hearts. My 7-year-old daughter and I walked outside at one point in the day, and a plane roared overhead. As I looked up at it, my innocent child fearfully asked, “Mommy, are they going to crash into us too?”

If these things were happening all the way in Hawaii, I can only imagine the choking atmosphere in the main land.

Now that so many years have passed, I look back and reflect on how that day altered so many people’s lives. Obviously, for those directly involved in the events, it must have been like living in a never-ending nightmare. I imagine those days must replay in their heads like Soldiers’ night terrors from war. Posttraumatic stress is not limited to those who wear a uniform. My heart and soul ache for those people. There cannot be a way to truly recover from such pain. All you can do is find a new normal and move forward.

September 11th changed my world, like many others. I deployed a few times. My husband deployed a few times. In our own little way through our assigned jobs, we were fighting terrorism. Those were just the direct effects though. Indirectly, it transformed my way of living. The horrible day showed me that nothing is permanent. We are not promised a tomorrow. We are never truly safe from danger or hate.

I have never understood or will understand terrorism. I cannot fathom the energy it must take to hate with every fiber of being. The time it must take to plan such destruction must be exhausting. If I do not like someone, they do not exist to me. I will not waste time thinking about them or finding ways to ruin them. With the unknown amount of time I have left on earth, I choose to live. I will embrace my friends and family. I will try new things. I will take calculated risks. I will see new places. I will stop and breathe in the beauty of the world that God created. I will make attempts to honor him and make a difference in the world. (Not sure how much I really achieve on this note, but at least I mean well and will keep trying.) I will welcome each day and cherish the gift that it is as tomorrow may never be.

Ultimately, I think this is how we, average people, beat the terrorists. We show them that their blows cannot stop us. We continue to live, love and laugh. We all keep working and rebuilding. We support the global efforts to eliminate their awful souls. We refuse to let their hate taint our hearts — dampen our spirits. We spread a little kindness each and every day. Regardless of politics, races, or religions, we band together when things are bleak. United together, the radiance of our joy and life can illuminate the dark and win over evil.

A Little Red Sports Car for a Kiss

My plan of a midweek happy hour drink and meal turned into driving a sexy little red sports car with a stranger, and it only cost me a kiss.

After a particularly long week (see previous blog), I decided to go out for Wednesday happy hour. As I sat at the bar enjoying my meal and drink, I read the book that I have been carrying around for over a month. It was nice to unwind, to read.

After finishing my book, I started chatting up some other bar patrons. There was banter about relationships, movies, and even cars. One of the bar customers happened to work at one of the local car dealerships. We chatted about the different models and how I was less than impressed with one of his pushy sales people. On my last visit to his business, his employee quickly ignored my request for information on three different model cars as soon as I stated the amount I wanted to pay. Perhaps I could only afford the less expensive model, but as someone who worked in sales for several years, I know there is always a possibility of up selling a better model if a customer expresses some interest in it. Nope. This salesman had no time to explain why I would want to pay more for the sports car over the compact sedan. He just needed to sell the car, and do it today. That was clear when he said, “I bet I can get you into [the compact] today.” After stating a number of times that I was in the research phase of my car search, I simply replied, “I do not think you will, especially after saying that.”

Shortly after telling the dealership guy about this experience, he states, “Well, would you like to go drive it?” My immediate thought was…um, it is 9:45 p.m, yeah right. But, my sense of opportunity and adventure overruled my mouth and I energetically replied, “Of course I do! Seriously?”

So here it is, right before 10 p.m. on a random Wednesday night and I am following a bar guy to the dealership around the corner. (No, I was not so naïve to get into a stranger’s car.) We get to the shop, he walks in and gets keys, and I start cruising in this sexy red sports car. It was amazing! The roar of the engine, the feel of shifting gears (yes, I am girl who can drive a manual transmission), and the pure spontaneity of the experience was nothing short of exhilarating.

Of course, as I am enjoying my ride, he makes his sales pitch…but it was not about the car. He paints a picture of how much fun it would be to drive this car down to the beach together so we can spend the weekend together on his boat. Sure yeah, that sounds like a wonderful offer, except for one factor. He is married. (Ironically, this is the second married man to offer me an unprovoked boat weekend this month. Apparently, I must appear to be mistress potential, come off too friendly… and single men do not seem to have boats.) I mention the whole marriage factor and he simply states that it is not an issue for him. Well, it is for me. (Call me selfish and old fashioned, but I want to be a guy’s one and only – not the dish on the side.) I am here just to drive the car, plain and simple.

Nothing in life is that simple though typically. Everything comes with a cost. When we choose to eat that huge cheesecake, the cost is calories, and a lot of them. When we choose to ignore our problems, the issues generally still exist or even get bigger. When we take a chance with love, we risk a broken heart. It is the basic law of consequences. Whatever we choose in life has a price. The question is – can we afford to pay it or do we realize the cost at the time of those decisions?

I’ve paid a lot of fees for my chosen actions over the years. Some have been worth the risk and I would do them again. Like the time I decided to join the Army Reserve – that was a life-changing decision. The cost of that decision has been time away from my family, challenging experiences in foreign countries and a lot of pressure to produce results. On the other hand, those costs have also shaped who I am today. I am a much stronger person, both mentally and physically. I have seen Serbian Orthodox churches, eaten authentic foods from different cultures, and was baptized by a Polish canon in a Sadam Hussein palace pool. Witnessing such vast cultures has made me able to truly appreciate what I have. I have been honored to meet and remain friends with some of the most loyal and honorable people I could ever imagine.

However, the decision to step in front of the large paper-covered hoop on the football field did not turn out so well. As a high school cheerleader, we always made painted signs for the football team to bust through at the beginning of the game and at half time. Well, one particular half time, the team chose not to go through the hoop. We all just stood there for a second soaking in the offense, and I chose to start to walk off the field…right in front of the hoop. This was at the same time, that a few of the players either changed their minds or saw an opportunity to crash though the hoop that maybe they never had before since they were in the back of the line. Both of our decisions collided and ended up with me getting stampeded like a Running of the Bulls participant. All I saw were some feet and then the ground. It was all funny in the end and no one was seriously injured. I had cleat marks on my uniform skirt, a few bruises and several years later, an America’s Funniest Home Videos spot light (which sadly, I could never get a copy of).

Either way, consequences surround us in our daily lives. How we deal with the consequences is what makes us who we are I suppose. Do we learn from the experience? Do we dwell on it and become bitter? Do we embrace it as a pivotal moment in our lives or just an experience we had to go through? Or, do each of our choices support the life we want to build, the person we are and the goals we are trying to achieve? I suppose that is for each person to decide.

I can tell you that knew the risk and the possible intent as I got into that little red car, but figured I can handle this. He will make a pitch, I can kindly decline and I will drive a sexy sports car. I can handle this. I’ve been through bigger dangers before.

So as I pulled the car back into the dealership, I quickly said my thanks (which included me jumping up and down like an excited schoolgirl from the thrill of the car), and gave him swift hug and a peck on the cheek. I am sure that was not exactly what he had hoped, but, that was the price I was willing to pay.

Maybe one day, a single man with a boat can actually ask me out. Maybe one day, I will get a copy of my humorous trampling on video. And maybe, just maybe, I will get that little red car when I am ready to buy.