It's easy to sit back and be a Monday morning armchair quarterback. To sit and say "Oh, I'd have done it this way." or "I don't understand how someone could let that happen."
That's the point - You don't understand. In fact, there's a lot of misunderstanding going on today. Too many assumptions and assertions of other ways things can or "should" be done. But until you're there; Until you're in it, you won't understand And even then, you still can't fully understand. I didn't.
I still don't.
I don't remember the first time I learned about fight or flight. It was probably in school somewhere along the way. They tell you that in a fateful moment - usually one that involves circumstances entirely out of your control - you'll have one of two responses. You'll either fight back or you'll flee. In most cases I suppose that's right. I certainly believed that those were the norm. Because of that, I felt confused and alienated at my own response when faced with life-or-death. I didn't understand how I couldn't find it in myself to fight, to scream. But I didn't run away either.
No one ever told me was that there is a third response. FREEZE.
It wasn't until after my rape, when I worked through what all had happened that my therapist told me that what my body chose to do was a completely NORMAL response to the life-or-death situation I was in. In that place free from judgement, my natural reaction was normalized. There is tremendous power in that.
After I'd been tackled and spun to the ground at the foot of my bed, I froze. Froze in fear. As I looked up at a man I'd never seen before and felt the push of the knife's blade at my neck and the pressure of his arm and body holding me to the carpet.
And that decision, I'm convinced, saved my life. Because in that moment where I froze, I wasn't fighting. My lack of a physical fight response allowed my attacker to calm, and allowed me to slow my breathing and calm myself, too. Well, as much as possible. In that moment, the Holy Spirit, came in and worked to help me think and plan my next move.
Freezing allowed me to fight in a way most people don't think of. I fought mentally. When there's a weapon involved, fighting physically might not be the best move. I hear all the time how people tell women in particular to fight back against attackers.
"Go for the groin."
"Go for the eyes."
"Find a way to incapacitate them."
Thankfully, those in my circles never questioned my natural reaction. They understood that God created my inner workings intentionally. It's becoming clearer each day, how the little girl I was at age 5 laid the foundation for my reactions, responses and thoughts when I was a teenager. Moreover, how those building blocks led me to the career I'm on and helped me to see, observe and react to stress and terror in the way I do. I was created intentionally and the natural response my body was created to have in that situation was NOT to fight - it was to freeze.
So when I hear society tell women to fight or run, I cringe.
Sometimes that's not possible. Had my body reacted with a fight response, I might not be alive. Preferring not to think about that very real possibility, I instead choose to celebrate the fact that a freeze response is a real - and normal - reaction. Let's teach our sons and daughters that fight or flight aren't the only responses. Let's teach them that freeze can allow the time to choose a deliberate way to fight, or flee.
That night after I froze, I began to think. The gears started grinding faster than they've ever gone before and I had to reason a way out of my predicament. Reality was that fleeing wasn't going to be an option - at least not immediately. Fighting physicaly against a man with a knife would likely get me killed or seriously hurt. So I outwitted and outsmarted him. While it didn't change the outcome or the irreparable harm he did cause by raping me - it did spare my life.
By freezing, I asked him a question. I asked him to use the bathroom. I hoped it would give me just a minute alone to think - but as he refused to allow me to shut the door I instead used that time to study him. To memorize as best I could his physical features, his clothing and anything identifiable that I could use WHEN I made it out of that ordeal. Giving myself something to focus on - focusing on my future and how I desperately wanted to live to see it - kept me from surrendering.
I didn't fight back during the worst part of the assault either. My freeze response allowed me to gaze into the corner of my ceiling and breathe. Focus on my breathing and escape to another place in my mind and to think of each and every move that would follow. I thought carefully about what to say, when to say it and judged each reaction he made to figure out how I might survive.
Because I froze, when the time came for me to re-dress, I slipped on sneakers in case there was an opportunity to flee. You see, those two natural responses everyone tells you about, they're real and I wanted to do both - but I was made to think and calculate. So while my body wanted to fight and run, my inner workings told me the best way to do both was to outwit. I fought back by asking him questions and telling half-truths that both bought me time and likely confused my attacker. I'd be willing to be that I wasn't what he expected.
Victims of crimes, especially rape, are often asked why they didn't fight back or run away. The truth is that that isn't always an option. Before my attack, I sometimes had these thoughts too when reading about other victims. I get it now. Fighting to survive is more important than fighting off an attacker.
Instead of teaching our girls to fight back - let's teach them to survive. To think and then to act. Let's teach them that by not fighting physically, they might save their lives and that at the end of the day life is more important. My attacker still raped me. He still took something very precious to me, but I am alive. Praise God, I am alive.