When I began Krav Maga, being touched by people outside my family made me feel physically assaulted. Unfortunately, sensory processing disorder plus a rather painful background had made for a toxic combination. I feel every skin cell, every bead of sweat and my brain goes into panic mood.
Therefore, I avoided hugs and touch as much as possible. I learned how to place my hand on my heart rather than shake hands. I would accidentally turn aside if someone wanted to hug me. Triggers were meant to be avoided, right?
However, Krav Maga requires a lot of touching. My first class with the amazing Alon Dagan required me to choke others and be choked in return. I was thrown in the deep end on my very first swim in the sea of triggers. If I wanted to remain as a student here, I would have to learn how to endure being touched a lot.
My whole life, I had been told to run from triggers. Now, I would have to actually seek them out. It seemed completely ludicrous, but then again, the very idea of unathletic, timid, terrified me learning Krav Maga was pretty out there as well.
So, with the help of my incredible Krav Maga mentor, Raz Chen, I began a journey of learning how to endure physical contact. I seriously think Raz deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for putting up with all my issues, but after the Committee gave it to Yasser Arafat, the Prize lost its appeal for most people of good conscience. Maybe a McArthur Grant?
My training started with allowing my wrist to be grabbed. Although wrist-grabbing isn’t painful, it is a controlling movement. When someone grabs my wrist, they are exerting power over me and making me feel helpless. To add to it, I have to deal with feeling physically repulsed by the very idea of someone’s sweaty hand and the clammy skin touching me. In other words, full-on sensory overload. “Stone walls do not a prison make,” I thought. Apparently, all it took was a hand. I shuddered and went limp, hoping that would work.
Yeah, is anyone surprised that it didn’t? “Make me let go,” Raz challenged me. I wanted to say he could just let me go, and we could just take an ice cream break, but I knew he was right. Attackers weren’t going to stop just because I asked nicely or begged or could go limp while I recite Richard Lovelace poetry.
It was in that moment that I had to accept a fundamental truth. I couldn’t run from triggers, they would always find me. I could only learn how to endure them better.
So I learned how to break the wrist grab. I learned how to relax when someone was touching me appropriately and I got used to the feeling of physical contact. I didn’t have to like it, I just had to build up a tolerance.
We moved to shirt grabs, which didn’t involve physical contact but involved feeling even more anxious and controlled. It took time, but I learned to tolerate them as well how to escape them when I wished to.
Finally came neck grabs and I think we can all agree the name alone is enough to indicate how triggering it was for me. But now, I’ve been choked and I’ve choked, and I no longer even blink. I even demonstrated chokes at the Sabbath table with a friend to a group of delighted kids.
The advice I had been given my whole life was wrong. Every time I’ve pushed myself to overcome a trigger, I’ve grown stronger with mental resistance training, and I’m able to do things I never dreamed possible. I’ve attended concerts, I’ve done the Krav Maga style of wrestling, and I’ve even learned how to hug people.
I still have a long way to go on this journey, but I now no longer believe that someday I will win. A very wise reader noted that every day I try, I win.
Tomorrow starts a three-part groundwork seminar. Wish me luck!