Reading a post by “The Happy Hugger” about bullies triggered a memory.
When I was very young, 23 or so, I was in my Beetle on my way to work; a bit in thought as I’d just had a dream that a deceased dear friend had visited me. I can still clearly remember the dream, to this day; it had been that vivid.
So lost in thought, I turned right onto the highway north, as I did every day. There was no turning phase, so I always had to wait for an appropriate gap; and as I’m a very cautious driver, I usually pass up on a lot of potential gaps before taking one that is large enough.
That day I had the sodden luck of picking a gap that, while in itself large enough, was being rapidly closed by a driver going far above the speed limit. I cleared the intersection safely, but he must have missed me by what he felt was too little margin. Of course seeing someone driving a Beetle, in itself, serves as a red flag for a lot of impatient drivers who feel that Beetles are by definition slow cars. (They are not: A Beetle engine has more power than many modern engines and pulling away from a standing position is effortless and fast. So is driving up vertical walls. One should only not exceed 130km/h on the highway as this will burn out the 4-speed engine.)
This driver screeched to a halt (I actually heard his tyres); reversed across the intersection in the wrong direction, probably causing havoc behind him, and followed me onto the highway. He tried to force me off the highway various times; eventually I managed to get a car between him and me (a maneuver that speaks for the versatility of a buggy, thank you). There was a lot of traffic that morning; but this bloke actually followed me all the way to my work, where, despite one of the doctors working there trying to intervene, he made verbal mincemeat of me. I believe the doctor’s presence prevented the brute from beating me up.
Here comes the South Africa bit: When I followed up the incident by reporting his license reg number to the police and the traffic department, nothing happened. They didn’t as much as identify the brute for me. The matter was dropped… A man who had deliberately tried to cause at least three accidents in succession and had threatened me with physical violence, was left alone, Scot-free. To continue his bullying and road rage. And I with not as much as a name I could curse. (But I’m sure his Karma has found him by now.)
This incident was of course never put to rest in my mind. Whenever I see the first beginnings of road rage, it comes back vividly. What would I do today? I like to fantasize that I’d land a well-aimed punch on his nose so it bleeds; but in all probability I’d proceed to take his details and report him to the next police station for intimidation and road rage, or more specifically, jump on my celly (back then there were none yet) and call the cops, while he’s still trying to push me off the highway. Guys like that ought to do time. And I’m sure the Doc would have helped me testify, as eyewitness – he’d been in the car I got between me and the brute, and he’d observed the whole sequence.
Something you read can trigger such a memory. It’s known as a co-ex. It’s a memory tightly linked to certain triggers – words, images, feelings. We all live with them, and for some, they can be a significant burden. It’s no good telling someone who is pursuing a co-ex, “let it go”. They can’t. So what to do when such a co-ex surfaces?
Deliberately replace it with other content, in your mind. Think of a happy celebration you had, or a walk on the beach, or something. Think intensely of the happy memory; it needs to be vivid enough to push the intense emotions of the co-ex aside. Deliberately find the tense muscles in your body and relax them. As I’m writing, I’m sitting in the same tense, hunched position I had back then, clinging to my steering wheel; I have to stretch out my back and put my shoulders back. My body physically remembers the incident, and I need to move it into a different posture. Roll my neck and stretch it out; breathe.
If a co-ex bothers you constantly or often enough to be a burden, you’ll need to resolve it. If the people who caused it, are around, you may want to “have it out” with them; or you may want to write them a letter you’ll never send (writing manually on paper is fabulous therapy). You could even burn the letter over a small flame when you’re done and visualize releasing the anger as it goes up in smoke; and intone (or incant) “I forgive you (even though I don’t feel you deserve it); I’m letting it go; it’s gone”. You can do the letter trick even with people whom you don’t know (like “my” road-rage idiot); it has the same effect. Or you could make an effigy (small doll stuffed with whatever is at hand – paper, straw, rice) and stick it full of pins before burning it. Yes, that is a practice straight out of voodoo (are you giggling yet), but it is wonderful stress relief, and face it, we rational thinkers don’t believe in voodoo anyway, so our “voodoo” is never going to cause anyone real harm; it will only make us feel better about having been defenseless.
The one thing you should probably not allow is that your thoughts go with you from co-ex to co-ex, dumping you in a worse and worse mood. They have a tendency of doing that. Get out of it; go shopping; go weed a garden; go running. Anything. Movement helps, so does a change of surrounds. Some people cope by visiting someone – the social will blast you right back into a sunshiny frame. If it’s 3h at night? Oy, what are you doing awake? Drink a toddy and go to sleep! Or try the effigy solution… it’s lots of fun, by the time you’re sticking pins in the thing, you’ll be laughing your head off. :))