The Emotions that Haunt Us
I was feeling restless in the evening, so I decided I would go to the movie theatre. I seldom go, but it seemed like it would be a good distraction.
I wanted to watch something light, so I chose Magic Mike XL - it’s one of the sequels in the Magic Mike line. Considering I cannot tell you which one, you can guess how much I know about these movies.
I was first introduced to Magic Mike by an ex. We were looking for something to watch on Netflix and scrolled by Magic Mike. I made some joke about it and he became very serious, “Jackie, promise me you won’t watch this.”
I was taken aback a little. However, in retrospect, it fit with his personal challenges. He was extremely insecure, and therefore extremely jealous. He worried that my seeing attractive men would make me think less of him. He never voiced that psychological viewpoint exactly, but I could guess that’s what was going on.
He was a difficult person to date - someone with whom you had to shrink yourself if it was ever going to work. He didn’t even want me to go to the gym without him because of his jealousy. It got so bad that I couldn’t even go to the gym with him because he made it a miserable experience of being vigilant about the people around me.
Needless to say, it didn’t last. I did eventually watch Magic Mike. It wasn’t anything spectacular. It was mildly amusing, and that was it.
So when I went to the movie theatre, I knew it would be entertaining, but not overwhelming (I didn’t want anything violent, psychologically disturbing, or the like).
I brought a small lap blanket with me to keep me warm in the theatre and found a nice seat on the edge. A large man sat next to me, and I politely smiled. I even tried to offer a little light banter to ease the awkwardness of sitting next to each other.
As the movie progressed, it felt like he was leaning more and more toward me. At one moment, I thought I felt him rub my arm. I say “I thought” because I was so shocked. I thought, “There is no way that is what actually happened.”
Sure enough though, he rubbed my arm. I shifted away from him. Shortly thereafter, he leaned toward me and did it again. I looked at him and declared, “You are making me uncomfortable.”
He belted back, “Don’t act like you didn’t want that.”
I was stunned and unsure of how to handle this moment. I quickly left the theatre. In the lobby I was trying to find somewhere to go and realized the man was following me, shouting various things at me.
I quickly darted into a room. It was full of press, who must have been there for some reason. A reporter immediately noted my distress and asked if I was ok. I explained what happened. They asked if I would be willing to share my story on the news - as a segment about women receiving unwanted harassment.
I was overwhelmed in that moment and certainly didn’t have enough emotional or logical grounding to do any such thing.
By this point, my aunt had found me. My aunt has always been one of my biggest supporters. Whenever I faced anything difficult in my life, she immediately believed me and swept in to see how she could support me.
When I shared with her what happened, she encouraged me to do the news segment. The reporter hungrily seized the moment and the interview began right away. I could barely remember what came out of my mouth as I was filled with fear.
What if that man comes after me for this?
What if someone judges me for going to a Magic Mike movie?
What if someone thinks my behavior encouraged his behavior?
At that moment, I woke up. That’s right. It was all a dream. Well, the part about my jealous ex is true, but all of the events in the movie theatre were a dream I had last night.
So why do I bother telling you a dream?
Because every single emotion in that dream was one I wrestle with in real life. What I remember most about that dream was how I felt.
That moment the man touched my arm and I couldn’t believe he was actually doing that in a theatre. That feeling has happened to me multiple times in real life - where some egregious behavior happens and I’m in complete shock that someone is actually doing it.
The feeling of panic and mind numbness was all too familiar. It’s extremely difficult to know the best way to respond in those moments - largely because I am so shocked it is happening in the first place.
I also always fear retribution from the perpetrator. This is because I have experienced retribution from perpetrators.
I could go on and on listing how I’ve experienced each of these instances in real life.
Even the mix-up with reporters has happened to me - twice following traumatic events. Once, the cops withheld my identity from reports so that I could maintain my privacy and safety. In another event, the news shared my name and incorrect details about what happened. They alluded to me partially being at fault for what happened as well.
I understand that I am speaking in vague terms here. I appreciate that the reader would probably like specific details about what happened, but I do not feel this essay is the appropriate place to trauma dump.
The point I am trying to make is the emotions that live with us.
Many times, my dreamworld tries to help me. It tries to whisper, “Hey Jackie, this area could use some healing.”
And so, it’s a sign to me that I need to do some processing of what came up.
Sometimes I do that through journaling. Sometimes, with especially complex feelings and experiences, I know I need extra support and seek therapeutic help.
Either way, I think these emotions bubbling to the surface is a natural human experience. As Bessel van der Kolk explains, “The body keeps the score.” Our bodies and minds do not forget all that we have experienced and witnessed.
We do far better when we attend to what the body brings up, such as in dreams or perhaps unexplained pain (stomach aches, headaches, etc.). This is our chance to not let the emotions haunt us anymore.
Thank you for reading. If you’d like to read more, sign up for my FUNletter or check out my book Grief is a Mess.