When I was a teenager I was assaulted on the street in broad daylight. It was a weekday around three o’clock and I was cycling home from my flute practice in the inner city of my hometown in the Netherlands. I remember seeing a small group of teenage girls walking on the pavement ahead of me and when I was closing in on them, I remember wondering why each of them was holding a wooden baseball bat in their hand. The next thing I remember is lying in the middle of the street, bleeding and seeing wheels from other cyclists passing before my eyes. After a while I managed to get up and continued my bike-ride home, bleeding and crying. After 20 minutes I came home and my mum immediately called the police. The girls were arrested and one of them was sentenced to juvenile prison because this had not been her first offence. I got an explanation for why they had chosen to assault me: the girls were Moroccan and stated to the police that they felt jealous of Dutch girls who generally were given more freedom in their youth compared to how they were raised at home. So, they decided to go out and vent their aggression onto a Dutch girl. And that girl happened to be me.
Wrong place, wrong time.
For many years I have thought that that was it. I survived, the girls got their punishment, I got an explanation for why I was targeted, life moves on.
Fast forward 20 years or so. I have moved to Sweden and my job sometimes involves traveling abroad with colleagues. One evening I find myself walking on the streets of Hannover, Germany, together with a couple of colleagues. We are about to cross a street and all of a sudden, instinctively, I grab one of my colleague’s hands before crossing the street. I don’t recall his reaction, but I remember feeling utterly ashamed inside myself. I felt like a terrified little girl and couldn’t place my feeling at that time.
Fast forward a couple of more years and I arrive in Chicago by myself. A colleague will join me the next day, so I find myself alone in the city. I love traveling so much and had never been to Chicago, so it felt crazy to stay in my hotel room for a whole day. I remember putting on my sunglasses as to disguise for the world how completely terrified I was of walking the streets of Chicago by myself. My heart was beating so fast the whole time and didn’t slow down until I was back in the safety of my hotel room.
It wasn’t too long ago that I realized the full extent of how deeply the assault on the teenage-me has affected me in my adult life. Weirdly enough, it has never popped up in any of the self-development trainings and courses I have attended over the past years. Even though I had the feeling that I had fully turned myself inside out, here was concrete evidence that there was more to explore. A testament once again, I believe, to the fact that we are never ever finished. There are always more layers to peel, there is always more to discover inside ourselves. I find this both exhilarating and irritating at the same time. Exhilarating because it makes life colorful and interesting. Irritating because it would be really great to at some point in my life say: I’m done, I know myself 100% now. But I know that’s not the way life works, or at least that’s what I believe.
If I’m totally honest I feel unsafe on any street, at any given time. I always feel tense in my body and my heart rate speeds up whenever I walk on a street by myself. I recognize that my body is in constant fight-or-flight-mode. As I’ve experienced that I can get beaten up by other people totally unprovoked, I have somehow taught my body that this can happen again at any time, which is why my body feels it needs to be on full-alert while being outside by myself. I’ve grown so used to this feeling that I have accepted it as normal for many years.
Months ago I planned a trip to London for myself around a theatre-event that I really wanted to attend, as well as the opportunity to spend a weekend with my best friend from Holland. I knew that once again, I would be in a city by myself and once again I could feel the tension rising inside myself beforehand. However, this time I decided I was tired of feeling terrified so I decided to actively work with myself and booked some Somatic Experiencing® (SE) trauma therapy sessions. Best decision ever! I have talked about what has happened to me, but with the help of expert SE-guidance I could now also connect in a different way to the feelings in my body. And slowly, deep insight and wisdom emerged inside myself.
I am writing right now from a café in central London. My friend left yesterday and I will have three more days in the city by myself before flying home to Sweden. The wisdom I found deep inside myself during SE-therapy is this: I cannot control what happens to me in my life, not while walking on the street nor in any other situation in my life. Let go & Trust are the only words to truly live by. Over and over again, every single day. Let go of wanting to control what happens to me in my life and trust that the Universe will provide. It’s not that I did not know this before, but I understood this on a more intellectual level. But now, if I am truly present and aware, I can connect with a deep feeling of understanding this truth also inside my body.
Sounds simple enough right? Let me tell you: this will take me a lifetime.
This seems to apply to all deep wisdom available to us: often when they are expressed they sound like the most simple things (like fridge-magnet-simple) but exactly their simplicity makes them the most difficult things for us human beings to fully embody and so this often takes years and years, if not a lifetime.
Do I leave this café soon feeling totally relaxed on the streets of London? No. However I have found a small thing that is of huge help to me at this moment. It’s something that popped up inside me when my SE-therapist asked me what it is that for me symbolizes Let go & Trust. Suddenly a shining key appeared. I remember dreaming of the same key a couple of years ago, feeling that it held a deep wisdom but at the same time not being able to reach it in my dream. But now, intuitively, I connected it to Let go & Trust. I knew I had to go out to look for a key on a chain, to hang close to my heart. And guess what? On my first day in London I walked by a shop and inside I found a beautiful silver key-pendant on a chain. It wasn’t even difficult to find! I love when that happens.
Here I am at the café, filled with earl grey tea, a banana chocolate muffin and wearing a silver key. I’ll go out now and explore the city. I’ve loved London since I came here for the first time when I was 17. I will walk the streets daytime and late in the evening and I will remember my words, with the key close to my heart. My heart will still beat a bit faster, but I will slowly teach myself that I can do this and with enough time and practice, I’m sure I will feel calmer and calmer in the years to come. I don’t have to hold on to this tremendous inner fear of being assaulted on the street again. It happened to me many years ago but that ended and I survived. Yes, it can happen to me again but so can many other things and I don’t want to live my life in fear.
Let go & Trust.
With love ♥
Photo: Mourad Saadi – unsplash.com