It felt awful, frankly. My fourth-grade homeroom was the worst ever, and the year I learned a lot about how to physically avoid a conflict. Mental conflict avoidance, well, that came easily. Remember, I never saw my parents have an argument, so arguments scared me. A lot. This year in school, however, was my first experience with physical, in your face, verbal abuse. I hated it. My inexperienced teacher did nothing to stop it, and I felt powerless. We were in a different, bigger school now from my little safe primary school. A lot of families were moving up to suburbs like Suffern from New York City in those days to escape the increasing violence. My new classmates were tough, street smart kids and they bonded over making mincemeat out of me. I found myself taking roundabout routes to the classroom so they wouldn’t be waiting for me in a hallway where teachers were out of earshot. I spent a lot of time planning escape routes, and where to play on the playground with my old friends to avoid the bullies. I would replay scenes over and over in my mind, making the scenario worse and worse.
In college, I discovered that I loved having guys as friends. There was something really refreshing about their directness. They said exactly what they thought. I admired their ease with anger. Wow, this was simple compared to talking with other women! There was a time when the bulk of my friends were men, and I avoided the complications of women friends.
Then, I married my first husband and things got very, very confusing. In fact, all we did was argue. I quickly learned that if I went for his bait, I couldn’t win. My response became not to fight. To let him be “right.” To stuff my feelings. To be angry sideways. Again. I knew this pattern intimately and I fell right into it. We had seven years of trying to work it out before we began therapy and, finally the scales started to fall off my eyes.
When I started studying the Alexander Technique, it all began to make sense to me as I processed through that lens. I finally faced up to how being a conflict avoider kept me from being present. Always worrying about what might happen next, stuffing my feelings to keep the peace and running out of the way to avoid potential conflict does not allow a person to live in the “now.” Life is worth the risk of being present, of learning to deal with the situation I am in, in sitting with and processing difficult emotions. When I stay with myself instead of running away, I am a complete and authentic person.