6 months ago, while drying off after taking my morning shower, I noticed something fall out of the towel that I was using to dry my hair and face.
When I looked down, I saw a large… red… thick… hairy spider sitting in the bottom of the tub.
After screaming like a girl (and making sure he didn’t have a brother hanging out with him in the towel) I finished drying off and grabbed my camera. (Yep… that’s the actual spider in the picture. I put the razor next to him for size comparison.)
For the rest of the day, I had a serious case of the heebie jeebies, and it felt like I had little hairy legs crawling up and down my neck.
That’s Not The Worst Part
That morning was definitely not a gold star type of morning.
But, what’s even more disturbing, is the fact that a 5 second experience on one random Tuesday morning in July has now permanently shaped what I do each morning.
Since that day, every time I reach for my towel, the first thing I do is give it a good shake to make sure that there are no more spiders waiting to get me.
Doing The Math
I have been alive approximately 1,292,976,000 seconds so far. (That’s 1 Billion with a ‘B’).
The shower-spider incident lasted approximately 25 seconds.
That leaves 1,292, 975,975 positive, wonderful, non-spider filled seconds in my life.
Yet, I still shake out the damn towel.
Scary Situations Change Everything
It doesn’t take much for something to change your view of the world.
For me, it was a brief encounter with an arachnid, and now my morning routine is shifted forever.
Can you imagine how a young child has their world changed when, in the midst of playful innocence, someone they trust inappropriately touches them.
Do you think they will ever play the same way again?
How Their World Changes
Little Suzy is 6 years old. She is enjoying playing with her older brother and his friend because they never let her play with them. She’s excited and feels special because her brother, for once, seems to be enjoying having her part of the game.
She’s laughing and excited and not worried about anything.
Then, from no where, she feels a hand come from behind and touch her in a place she knows is personal and private.
She freezes. She doesn’t know what is happening or why this is happening. The only thing she knows is that she doesn’t like it and just hopes that, if she sits still enough and doesn’t move, then whatever is happening will stop and the scary feelings will go away.
After 10 seconds, the hand moves away and everything is back to “normal”.
But it isn’t.
Nothing Will Ever Be Normal Again
For that little girl, that 10 second experience forever changes the way she plays.
Now, instead of just innocently playing and being fully involved in whatever game is going on, she is “aware” and “on guard” of who is around her, where they are sitting, how they are moving, and what they are doing.
She is perpetually making sure she is safe and not in a place where she will be surprised by anyone.
Her body is no longer relaxed and free.
She is tense and anxious. Her shoulders and neck are always stiff from being pulled up against her head as a natural form of self-protection.
She startles easily when someone approaches her from behind or to the side and may actually be getting angry much more often for “no apparent reason.” Because she’s more reactive, her parents start to discipline her more because she’s not their good little girl anymore.
And so the cycle grows.
It’s Not A Little Thing
There is the mistaken belief that says, “Unless something BIG happens to you, you’re not really hurt.”
And so, if you are reactive because of a “little” thing, then there must be something wrong with you. You must be broken.
The solution (and sometime your solution as well)—”Just get over it.”
That would be like saying, “Yeah, a big hairy spider was in your towel. It didn’t bite you. It didn’t hurt you. Just don’t think about it every time you reach for your towel.”
Believe me when I tell you, I don’t consciously try to recall the spider incident every morning. It just shows up, whether I want it to or not.
I can no more “just not think about it” as I can teleport to my office every morning.
When it comes to scary and overwhelming situations, it doesn’t matter how big or small they are. It is your perception of the event that determines how intensely they will affect you.
Okay, So Now What?
I tell this story because I want you to understand that what you are feeling is real. The fear and anxiety and worry and concern is real. It isn’t just something that you can “get over”.
It’s common for abuse survivors to tell themselves that “it wasn’t that big-a-deal”, but I don’t know why I still feel this way? I must be crazy. There must be something wrong with me.
You’re not crazy!
You’re wounded… but you’re definitely not crazy.
The other thing that I’d want you to hear is, “You’re not destined to be guarded and reactive the rest of your life.”
You are equipped with the profound capacity to heal. You can grow and change. You are self-aware and are capable of understanding why-you-do-what-you-do and therefore you have choice.
For me, I get to start working through my fear of towel spiders.
For you, if you’ve experienced something like the little girl in this story, you get to start learning how to understand what your body is going through and how to trust and play and laugh again.
You can be different.