Fight or flight

“I’m fight or flight.”

You know what this means; you’re usually the one who says this.

It is a threat.

But then, so is “I love you.”

The thing is, “fight or flight” just isn’t true anymore.

Not for me. And not for researchers.

But it lives on because it’s so easy to remember. So easy to do.

“Fight or flight or fawn or freeze,” doesn’t have the same ring. Nor does “tend and befriend.”

This new model, including the quote-unquote “female” response, the PTSD response, the survivor response, rankles in its inherent passivity.

Worst is that I do them all, now.

“Give me anything and I can do it to excess,” I am wont to joke. As if over-reliance on any of these over-simplifications has a hope in hell of being constructive.

I’m far enough along to understand what it means to threaten someone with fight or flight, to push back (however ineffectually) against it.

Who sees in my own fawning responses a desperation to be loved and understood and finally taken care of by another human being.

But also sees: These are the tools I have. They were hard-earned. As my arsenal expands, I will use them less.

But for now, these are the tools I’m trying to use to make this work.


In the bad old days things were much easier: Come. See. Conquer. And flee.

I’m walking through a park with my most recent ex and we’re talking about why we don’t “do” relationships (as if both of us not “doing relationships” was not our problem).

We walk and talk around and around the idea that partnership means a dilution of the self.

And for someone who’s so recently begun to consider who that self might be, besides a collection of bad qualities, that’s disconcerting.

I read, in the avoidant attachment self-help modules, such frightening truths as: “Many flight types are so busy trying to stay one step ahead of their pain that introspecting out loud in the therapy hour is the only time they find to take themselves seriously.”

I realize that I am searching for anything to anchor me here, anything to help me stay.

I parrot back “I love you too” dozens of times a day now, as if that means something.

In my heart, I don’t think it does.

It could. I hope it will soon.


“I don’t want to always be the boy.”

I’m drunk and I haven’t spoken seriously to another person in weeks, and this is what comes out.

I am starting fights again.

Petulant, I am demanding to be heard on the smallest, the most petty, the meanest of things. No injustice, no interruption, can go unremarked.


But I don’t trust that those fights will be constructive, that they won’t blow this rickety proposition to bits. So I bicker and bitch about things I “should” be able to win. I am secretly delighted when later I am the one being fawned over. When he begs to be weighted down by me.

Of course, this isn’t the whole picture.

The frame, fogged up by passion, has yet to show what’s really going on.



“Do you have a type?” my psychiatrist asked on the very first day I met him, crying at the Crisis Resource Centre.

“Passive megalomaniacs,” I replied, without missing a beat.

“There … can’t be that many of those.”

“Somehow, I seem to keep finding them.”

It’s such a burden to be awake to your own bullshit.

To know what other people are saying, even when they don’t, to try to get you to behave.

To know when you’re taking the easy way out.

Case. In. Point. I delude myself into believing that I am now in control of my relationship with my father. That I know how to manage him. (That I know how to manage others. That I know how to manage myself. But mostly I’m deluding myself about him.)

You just can’t be assertive with him, I tell myself. That’s OK, that’s just his way. It’s OK to use subtlety and subterfuge and downright ass-kissing in just this one case. It’s OK that this spills over into all my personal relationships when Public Tessa has no problem being assertive.

We’re just too similar, you see?

You can only bash your head against the wall so many times before something gives.


“But I love you.”

He is drunk. Not just drunk, ludicrously cartoon-character drunk, swaying and stumbling, yet — stripped down to bare id — shockingly strong.

He is not listening. They never do.

For one moment, you stop and consider everything that brought you here with eerie prescience for someone who’s still technically a teenager. For one moment, you know that you weren’t made “dirty” by another boy and that he did not “save” you. You know that what he has been doing is wrong and you are disappointed in yourself for the way you have handled it. You know you have the choice, right now, to be proud of your actions for the rest of your life, or to stay frozen by this for years to come.

While you stand, he strikes.

My way or the highway

There are two types of people in the world: Those who believe their type can change, and those who don’t.

I wake up every morning feeling like a shell of someone who’s come and gone, a new body to fill an empty place at the table.

I fall asleep frustrated that I will be the one to have to change, that I am up against a brick wall. My own stubbornness rankles and itches at the thought.

But this is what I choose. It was wrong all the previous times I chose it, but I have changed.

My words take sharper meanings now. My muscles are better defined. The points of my teeth can’t always be muzzled, but sometimes they can, and I’m learning when they need not be.

I can hold my self in one hand and my love in the other, and try to treat both the way they need to be treated.

“I’m fight or flight,” I stand in front of the mirror, trying to imagine myself saying, now.

Over and over, until my breath fogs up the glass, all that comes out is “I love you.”





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