Aim, Fire. Aim, Fire. Aim, Fire.

I hate driving.  Besides the fact that I have a highly sensitive aversion to motion, I literally cannot stand to operate a motor vehicle.  I would be perfectly satisfied being chauffeured to every location necessary.  I would love it, in fact.  But since having a personal driver, other than my spouse, doesn’t look like it’s in my future – ever – I’m stuck driving and hating it.

Because it’s summer, my mind can wander and I began to connect the necessary evil of driving to other things that seem to be turning into unpreventable evils.   In the wake of the June 12, 2016 mass shooting at Pulse Night Club, killing 49 people, this tweet surfaced:

In fact, since Sandy Hook, this tweet surfaces every time.  And each time, it’s heartbreaking, yet holds more and more truth, that this is what America has accepted.

The reasons the NRA is successful are simple:  Their tactics insight fear, they have an acute focus on one thing- gun control, and their members vote.  The NRA’s current message seems to center around the “good guy with a gun” mantra  that somehow more law-abiding, gun-toters is the answer.  In short, mass shootings can be prevented or lessened if only there was someone legally carrying a gun there to stop it.  Not only is this argument unfounded with little supporting evidence, it assumes that more law abiding citizens (like me) wish to carry a weapon with them capable of taking a human life. The absurdity of that idea was too much for me to process so I sought more information.  I have never shot a gun – ever – let alone owned one, kept it in my possession, and discharged it with intent to injure.  Most people in America, thankfully,  have not either.  But I could not make a decision on whether gun-toting America is one I can accept until I did the first thing on that list – shoot a gun.

My dad owns a lot of guns.  And he is one of the safest gun owners there are.  I knew if I wanted to learn and see what all the fuss was about, he was the one to ask.  After Maria had gone to bed, he presented me with two weapons, both 9 mm, semi-automatic, handguns.  The first was more compact, a little smaller, perfect to conceal and carry.  The second was slightly larger, but my dad said that the recoil was easier to manage as it was absorbed more by the gun.  Both held 8 – 10 bullet magazines.  Those bullets were a lot larger than I thought for such a small gun.

“Always assume it’s loaded,” he began.  I took a deep breath.  “And we don’t have to do this if you don’t want to,” he continued.  I appreciated his reassurance.  But I had to know what discharging this weapon was like.  And so I had him go on.

“Whenever you want to stop, put the safety on and lay the gun on the table on its side.”  He went through 15 – 20 more minutes of safety procedures and let me practice handling the unloaded weapon until I was comfortable.  He then packed the guns, ear and eye protection, and we went to be.  We would go to the gun range in the morning.

I set my alarm for 7:50 am.  I most certainly didn’t want to wait to do something that might take a minute.  Maybe I was just going to shoot it once and that was enough.  The gun range had less “right-wing propaganda” than I had imagined it would.  In fact, it was very organized and the process was efficient.  Ten minutes later we were behind lane 24 C setting up the target.

“Make sure you line up the three dots [on the sight].” To me, “line up” was to put the middle dot between the other two.  Like the picture below.  Done.

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I aimed at the center of the target and slowly squeezed the trigger.  Bang.

That feeling was so intense.  The sheer power of this weapon in my hands was overwhelming.  And it wasn’t anything like the movies.  I am a female, but I am a fairly strong female.  This gun is designed to fire 8 – 10 shots in succession, 1 with each pulling of the trigger.  But each intense shot required a complete adjustment of my body and re-alignment of my mind.

The next shot hit the target holder square on.  So much for keeping that target.  “Are you sure you are lining up the dots in a line?” Yes, Dad.

Bang.  I hit the target holder again.  “Well, you’re definitely in the middle, but you’re aiming high. I’ll go get us another target holder and we’ll see what we can do about that.”

The 5 minutes I waited for my dad to return were probably the most profound. I was standing there alone in the lane, and all I hear were gun shots.  Loud gun shots.  From a 45 mm handgun.  Through my ear protection I could feel the sheer power of those shots.  One after the other.  And I found myself imagining being in a situation where this was real gunfire, meant to injure or kill.  I tried to imagine being in that night club, or school, or movie theater, or church.  And besides protecting the lives of others I also needed to discharge my gun in order to stop the massacre from getting any worse.  And I looked at that gun, and I looked within my soul and I knew that was something I would never, EVER be able to do.  Could I throw my body in front of someone to protect them from gunfire?  Yes.  Could I put the safety of my students before my own if an active shooter entered my room?  Absolutely.  But discharge a weapon designed to kill another human?  I cannot believe the NRA wants regular Americans to undertake this task.  To bear the physical and emotional responsibility of preventing mass killings and potentially taking human life in the process.

My dad returned with a new target holder and instructed me to aim a tad lower.  At $3 a piece, these target holders could start to add up.  I pointed the gun lower and Eureka. The three dots were IN a line.  Not an isosceles triangle as I had interpreted.  One straight line:  dot, dot, dot, as my dad had instructed from the beginning.

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Bang.  Bulls-eye.  Center of the target.  Bang.  A tad high, but still in the fatal range.  Bang.  Right next to shot #2.  Bang. Bang. Bang.  Within centimeters of the others.  My eye protection was beginning to fog up, but those three dots were still in view, aligned with the center of the target.  Bang. Bang. Bang.  And the clip was empty.  0626161201-1.jpg

Now that I had a groove, I went through two more magazines and called it quits.  I think my dad showed the target to everyone as we left the store. (He’s proud of his daughter and makes no apologies.  I appreciate that about both of my parents.)  We went to get some victory coffee (my idea – I needed coffee and Minnesota doesn’t have Dunkin’ Donuts).  On the way home my dad answered every single question I had about guns – ammunition, conceal and carry laws, open carry laws, President Obama, the state of Illinois, Cook County, Lake County, being a banker versus a teacher with respect to guns.  And what he said that meant the most to me was this:  Thank you for doing this with me.  I’m glad you wanted to try to do this with me.  

Did this experience make me want to sign up for the next Minnesota conceal and carry class?  Heck no.  But would I do this again with my dad?  Absolutely.

I’m glad I can now truly appreciate the power of these weapons that Americans cling to literally and constitutionally.  I’m glad I have a better idea of what the “good guy with a gun” mantra is asking law abiding Americans to take into their hands.  And just as the NRA will continue its fight to protect the right to bear arms, so will I continue to fight for my right to exist safely in America unarmed.

 

Screaming Silence

I attended the public high school starting in 9th grade so that I could be on the swim team.  The rumors of a “pool on the 4th floor” of the Catholic high school proved to be false, and so I found myself immersed into a world of diversity like I had not seen at school before.   Catholic middle schools aren’t exactly known for their comprehensive sex education programs.   I therefore entered 9th grade at the public high school unprepared for the un-repressed hormones of high school boys and naive to the influence they could have on me.

At the risk of sounding conceited, I must share a bit of information that’s important to the purpose of this blog post:   In the off-season of 9th grade swimming, I worked out with the boys team.  I could swim as fast as any of them, and a teammate of mine convinced me to be co-managers of the boys swim team that year.

As a manager  with no driver’s license, I rode the bus to and from the away swim meets.  Fourteen year old me and a bus full of teenage boys.  On one particular trip, it was late at night when we headed back.  The team earned a big win that evening, and the atmosphere on the bus was electric.  I didn’t think twice about joining the celebration in the back of the bus near two seniors.

And then suddenly I felt the hand of one of those seniors move up my leg.   I froze.  Here was a popular, good-looking, successful eighteen year old male giving me attention.  My outward confidence wasted away as I tried to process what was happening to me.  I’ve blocked out a lot of the details of that first incident, but it wouldn’t be the last time.  The next time it was senior #2 who took my hand and put it squarely on his member under his sweatpants.  He put a blanket over the top, but based on the whispers, there was no question in anyone’s mind that I had to be the instigator of the encounter.  I think I might have closed my eyes.  I didn’t know how to call out for help.  I had no idea what I was doing and there was nothing enjoyable about the experience.  And now, as a strong, clear-minded, self-respecting 35 year old woman, there is no doubt in my mind that what happened to me was sexual abuse.

Of course, the high school rumor mill is brutal and unforgiving.  I was told I was a “slut” who broke up a relationship, and for four years of high school, I was I was cursed with a nickname and a “reputation” that followed me through the hallways.  I kept swimming, broke records, earned awards including becoming an All-American in the 100-yard backstroke.  But the shame of those incidents haunted me and in my own mind seemed to overshadow anything I did in the pool.  With every new person I met, I wondered if they knew my secret and judged me.

I left for college and seemingly left that period of my life behind me.  I was unable to forge any deep rooted friendships from high school and so it seemed easy to have a fresh start. The shame that bound my soul existed in the back of my brain rather than the forefront.  I no longer worried when I met new people whether they had heard what I had done in the back of that bus.  But there was a wound that remained unhealed until I accepted my powerlessness over alcohol and allowed myself to heal.

Two years ago, I attended a club swim team reunion.   That night, adults gathered socially, as they tend to do.  A similar figure from my past now looked me square in the eyes and un-apologetically asked what I was doing later on.   With 2.5 years of sobriety under my belt, I could clearly recognize the manipulation when I saw it.  I wasn’t surprised when the friend of his asked if I was going to meet up later, but I could identify it as harassment this time.  What happened next shocked even me:  there was another woman there, a teacher, who casually glanced at my wedding ring and then asked me if I was interested in this gentleman.  Yes.  This woman, a high school  teacher only a few years my senior, rather than defend me from the harassment of these two gentlemen perpetuated it.  And all I could think about were the 14-year old kids that this woman also had in her classroom.  And with that, I put down my club soda with lime and exited the establishment.   

Some may be thinking, Why write this after 20+ years?  The answer is simple:  my students.  Every year innocent, impressionable children enter my classroom and my number one job is to protect them.  I didn’t have the tools to protect myself, and I believe that everyone whose job it was to protect me did the best they could.  Rumors fly around high schools in the same way they did back then.   But now I have the opportunity to help others who might feel vulnerable and silenced.  I have an opportunity to create a culture in my classroom where a 14-year old child doesn’t feel defined by the cruel words of peers.  Twenty years later, it’s still acceptable to victim-blame and shame people into thinking the absence of an explicit “no” is equivalent to “yes.” And sober, 35-year old Megan can stand up straight and tall for the 14-year old that she was inside.  

 

That First Drink

How do you start to share a journey that has been your whole life in the making? Where do you begin with a story which now permeates every fiber of your being and manifests itself through every aspect of your life?
The answer is starting anywhere is fine, long as you start somewhere. Because endless agonizing over where to start is holding you back from starting at all.
I remember my first drink like I remember xxx: the scenery, the smells, the bitter aftertaste of the Miller Light, sip after sip pouring down my throat as the calming sensation eased through my body. I can recall so vividly walking and feeling weightless and powerful. Careless and bold. Breathing in the cold Iowa November air in but feeling warm and confident. As a freshman in college, I had no idea where my chase for this escape would take me, but I was certain that alcohol had given me something to catch.
My mother had warned me about alcoholic gene flowing through her side of the family no less than 100 times at this point. Having dealt with an alcoholic father growing up, she wanted me to avoid that heartache if possible. Unfortunately, avoiding alcohol isn’t simply a matter of will for the alcoholic, and no human power (not even my mom) could save me from myself.
I recall playing mind games with my husband.  Because if he confronted me, I’d have to confront myself.

Step One: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.

I knew I drank a lot…I knew I probably would have to deal with that someday.  But powerless? Unmanageable?  Even though I drank each night, during the day I was a teacher.  And teachers don’t embrace powerlessness very well.  And for something to be unmanageable was unthinkable.

I wrote at length on my teaching blog about the idea of powerlessness and how accepting powerlessness over classroom elements out of our control can shift our mindset and free us from obsession.

My goal with this blog is to help reduce the stigma of addiction.  I hope to show a side of addiction that will help to encourage compassion and understanding.  As an active addict, I went to great lengths to hide my compulsion to drink.  This disease was more powerful than my willpower could ever sustain.  My ability to stay sober does not come from a sheer desire to abstain.  It comes from a conscious decision to examine the issues that lead me to drink in the first place.  It comes from a realization that there is no situation in my life that alcohol won’t make worse.