I spent a year socially isolated when I was getting stalked
A few years ago, a cyber stalker of mine turned physical stalker when he showed up at my office (fortunately, I was not there.) His messages to me, to my family, and to my friends were relentless as he spent the best part of a year trying to figure out where I was so he could… I don’t even know. Find me, and make me see why I should be dating him again, I guess?
I totally freaked out, and moved to the middle of nowhere with some family who lived very far away from me. I was deeply traumatized by the situation; my stalker had cyber stalked me for over a decade, but he’d never physically stalked me before. He’d also sexually assaulted me before when I was younger, and although I didn’t really understand it, in retrospect this had a pretty significant impact on my psyche at the time.
I was *always* scared.
I was scared to go out alone, I was scared to be in public, I was scared anywhere other people were and I especially hated crowds. Once, a car followed me into the house when I was getting back to the grocery store, and I nearly had a panic attack before my family told me they’d ordered Pizza.
So, suffice it to say, I didn’t go out much. I didn’t know many people in the area, and although I hung out with my family sometimes, I’d often spend days by myself without even seeing another person. I spent 18 months like this, and eventually, I basically figured it out. And, by “figured it out,” I mean, I was happy. Sometimes, people ask me if I’m angry at my stalker because I wasted 18 months fo my life avoiding him, and my response is — it wasn’t a waste. In some ways, I was happier in social isolation than I was after re-joining society.
But, that didn’t happen over night. I developed habits and mindsets that allowed me to thrive in a socially isolated environment.
Just what were those habits, you wonder? So glad you asked! I’m going to enumerate a few, and I hope some will be useful, but probably not all of them will be. But, there are some things to address first — I find how a lot of people are handling this corona-situation to be super alienating. I’ve been really pissed off with all these articles that say shit like “That emotion you’re having right now? It’s trauma.”
Like, I am not you, you are not me — how the fuck would someone else know if I’m traumatized? I do know that, in the past, what has traumatized me is when other people tell me what to do, or what I’m feeling, or what I’m thinking. For me, reclaiming agency when I feel like I have none is at the heart of undoing trauma. And, for the record, yes this whole covid forced-isolation thing does have aspects to it that could absolutely trigger trauma, but like — telling someone they have trauma is another bullshit way of depriving them of agency, and I hate it.
But, the reason why the covid epidemic could land as traumatic, is that when a person feels like they are in physical or emotional danger and there is nothing they can do to defend themselves, it often triggers trauma. It is this lack of available agency that often turns an event from simply unpleasant into traumatic. (The book Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma has a good explanation about this in its first few chapters, if you’re curious to read more.)
Which reminds me of another meme that’s been pissing me off! (Omg, I got so much time to be grumpy right now.) It’s this one:
Like, fuck you — it is exactly because we can’t do anything that this is hard. There is no heroism, no human kindness to be discovered, no great stories to be written about this (well, maybe the doctors and nurses — but not most of us.) All we have to do… is sit here, in the silence with our anxiety.
However! I am very familiar with this type of pain! It’s very similar to sitting around the house, hoping I wasn’t going to get stalked but not being able to do anything to prevent it. And, it fucked me up, and if you’re feeling fucked up about having to stay in the house because of the corona virus, I’m going to validate the shit out of you. It’s hard!
Especially if you live alone. Did you know, solitary confinement is considered to be inhumane under international law? Yet, that’s what is being pushed on many of my single friends who live alone. Many people are being pushed into partial or complete solitary confinement against their will, aka, being forced into conditions that are similar to things that we consider to be “inhumane” under international law. So, fuck all those dumbass, emotionally invalidating memes.
So — ok. Maybe you agree this is hard. Maybe you don’t, but want to read on anyway! What should we actually do in this situation?
Well. I don’t know for everyone, but here are a series of things that helped me:
1. Creating Meaning Out My Situation
This one is first, because I think it was probably the most helpful. As long as I resisted the fact that my life story included being stalked, I suffered more. As long as I thought of it as something to get through and put behind me, the harder it was to live day to day.
However, when I told myself “I’m learning right now,” that helped. When I told myself “I’m having a life experience, and maybe one day I’ll be able to help other people because of it,” that helped. This was the narrative that helped me get through it.
An especially good book for this one, is Viktor E. Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning. Frankl survived the holocaust, by finding a kind of meaning through what he experienced there.
It is worth noting, on the other side of this one, I eventually had to let go of of some of the narrative I created when getting stalked. I thought I’d eventually help other victims of stalking or domestic violence, and I see now, that it’s not for me. It’s just too hard, I have to go back to such a painful time in my life to do that, and I hope there are other people out there who can do that because it just hurts me too much. But, there have been unexpected other things I’ve been good at — like, possibly writing a blog post on social isolation.
We never know what the full meaning of what we experience will be in the long run, but if we open up to the possibility that it could be helpful and part of our life path, it helps us experience it in the present.
2. Meditation and Spirituality
This one is a little hard for me, as a sort of “rationalist programmer” type, but it was also a huge, huge part of how I got through those 18 months, so I will be open about it. I meditated. A lot.
I suppose it also played into #1 for me as well, which was part of how I made meaning of my situation. I used those 18 months to fairly wholeheartedly pursue enlightenment. I believed it was a real possibility (I still believe it as a real possibility, though my perspective on what “enlightenment” is has since changed.) And, when enlightenment became the most important thing to me, I felt lucky. I felt lucky that I’d been stalked, that I’d been forced away from this materialistic life. That I had so much open space to really look at this.
If you have religious leanings that call to you during this time, I believe leaning into them could really help you feel ok with what’s happening right now. Like, there’s a reason this shit has been around so long.
If you’re curious about my religious leanings, they are eclectic, and most of my friends think I’m kind of insane, but that’s fine. I basically separate it out from my rational life like this. If life was like a video game, reason and science would basically be the rules of the video game (you stand on the ground, you can jump so high, if you shoot things, they explode, etc.) and spirituality would be more like the experience of your own consciousness as you were completely absorbed in the game. So, like, yeah — science works. If you’re trying to beat some boss, you need to play by the rules of the game. If you get cancer, I think conventional science and medicine is likely the best bet, because cancer and illness are all playing by the rules of the game. And, I think people who claim to be able to invalidate the rules (“let me heal your cancer with spirit with my energy! Only $99.99 for the first three sessions!”) are generally charlatans.
But, I think the experience of consciousness is worth exploring, and that you find some interesting things that you do that. My current favorite religious practices, which definitely will not appeal to everyone — maybe even very few people — are:
- Ramana Maharshi’s teachings on self inquiry. I can’t remember what book of his I read, it was maybe this one? Whatever; you have google if you care enough.
- Jed McKenna’s book Spiritual Enlightenment, The Damndest Thing where he describes a process of writing that’s supposed to help you kill your ego. I forget what he called it; I always remember it as “spiritual apoptosis” but I think it might be “spiritual autolysis?” It basically means, a spiritual killing of “the self” and it’s about as fun as it sounds.
- Vipassana and Zen meditation. I’d already been doing these for a while, but you can google instructions for zen meditation, or “Shikantaza” and find something. Or, maybe check out Suzuki’s book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind (that’s probably the most palatable of the books I’m recommending.) I also liked The Myth of Freedom by Chögyam Trungpa. Ok, full disclosure, I actually liked Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism more, but that doesn’t have a ton of instruction in it.
Anyway! So, maybe you’re wondering did I succeed? Was I enlightened by the end of my 18 months? No!
Lols. So, eventually what I saw, was that this whole spiritual game was a way of not admitting to myself what I really wanted, which — frankly — was a partner. I’d been so hurt by being raped, and being stalked, I’d created this whole fantasy of this life I could live where I didn’t have to depend on other people. I could be, some like, enlightened guru teacher who was so much better those basic bitches, with their husbands, babies, and fancy purses.
But as it turns out, I am a basic bitch and who likes bougie purses and stuff. So, I accepted that instead and came back to society and got a tech job. But, like, if you read all that stuff maybe you’ll get enlightened? You never know!
3. Moving My Body
This was originally going to be “working out” but like, working out is hard. The kind of key aspect of this, is that it has to be easy enough to do regularly. And, if you’re some mega gym-rat who loves working out, by all means do it. But, for me, even though I’ve gone through highly athletic times in my life, when I’m feeling traumatized moving becomes harder — possibly because the “freeze” aspect of the “fight, flight, or freeze” thing is getting triggered.
But, making sure to stay moving is a key way of preventing trauma. So, if I’m up for a workout, I’ll do it — but if I’m not, I’ll accept that and just do anything. Yoga, stretching while watching TV, going for a walk — whatever it is. The key is, I have to do something every day. It can be easy! It can be short! I just have to move. And, the primary goal is not to get in shape (though, that’s nice if it happens) it’s about circumventing the freeze response.
There are a bunch of youtube videos, so you can probably find something reasonable to match your skill level. This dude is one of my faves, if you’re in the mood for up-beat:
I also get into the beach body online stuff, like Insanity Max 30 for the days I’m feeling like, actually athletic.
When I’m feeling too shitty for those peppy workout people though, I might do like, a Yoga With Adriene:
Yoga With Adriene
WELCOME to Yoga With Adriene! Our mission is to connect as many people as possible through high-quality free yoga…
Sometimes I literally hate everyone though, in which case I’ll just do my own thing.
4. Indulging Vices
So, last time I was socially isolated, I spend a lot of time trying to become enlightened; this time, I’m spending a lot of time learning how to play Starcraft and I think that may be the wiser choice.
Toward the end of my 18 month isolation, after I’d started dating someone and decided to move back to society but before I was able to actually do it, I was downing half a bottle of wine a night or so. It wasn’t terrible, but it was a lot for me — but, also, it was a temporary situation, and I stopped it once my isolation ended.
And like, I don’t want to end this as some dumbass Pollyanna post where I tell you meditation and exercise are the keys to getting through the covid epidemic. Like, yeah they’re great, and we may be up for those things sometimes — but, sometimes we’re just not. It happens, and then, we do what we gotta to to get by. If we can just admit it to ourselves, thats’s what we need right now it’ll be easier to stop if we can mitigate our shame about the whole thing, and just kind of accept it’s what we need to get by.
On that! If you are struggling with shame, Brené Brown is clearly the shame-master. She has many good books, but I think I Thought It was Just Me is the most useful if you’re actively caught in any kind of shame loop. You can also check out her extremely watched Ted Talk on the power of vulnerability:
So yeah, indulge those vices! I know I am.
Anyway, I’m getting kind of tired now, and like I could really go for losing a few matches of Starcraft (omg, I am so terrible) so I’m going to end it here.
Take care ❤