My youngest son was furious with me after the accident. Why did I get in the car that day? Why had I let this thing happen to me? To his intractable five year old logic, it was all my fault. Victim blaming in it’s purest form. I cannot blame him for his anger; I imagine those very thoughts had crossed the minds of all the people close to me. I know that at times, I had thought them too.
We are all guilty of making assumptions of victims and imagining ourselves immune to their fate. It would not happen to us, we reason: we would not walk home late at night, we would not stay in an abusive relationship, we are better drivers than that. This is how we reassure ourselves that bad things will not happen to us. That we can beat the odds against random bad luck.
I had always considered myself a fighter. In a life threatening moment, I would be the one to fight my way out, I would be the one who runs, smashes the glass and survives. In reality, I didn’t fight my way from the car; I was stupefied with useless broken limbs gasping for air from collapsed lungs, panicked and trapped.
Afterwards, in the long dark days of the hospital, I didn’t fight at all. I was frozen with fear. I closed in on myself and stopped eating. I refused all visitors apart from family and one close friend and stopped communicating with anyone. I retreated inwards like an animal that curls into a ball and imagines itself safe, angry at my own weakness but unable to muster the strength needed to rage against my fate. I lost myself for a while.
I am kinder to myself these days. In truth, there was not a single thing that I could have done to change the outcome of the accident, the accident investigators concluded that I had tried to drive evasively, but to no avail. I no longer consider my reaction to the trauma as a weakness or personal failing. I was adjusting to an unimaginable situation. The sharp shock of the accident had simply stunned me into submission. It took me a while, but once I left hospital, I found my way back.
None of us knows how we would react in a crisis until one hits us head on in the middle of the road. Fight, flight or roll over and play dead? There is no right response and there is definitely no virtue in it. One thing I do know, is that you cannot control the one that kicks in, so it is pointless blaming yourself. Whatever gets you through.