I grew up in Texas.
The trucks in my high school’s parking lot were adorned with gun racks. Animal control had to be called to our neighborhood to capture baby wild boars that our neighbor had housed in his garage when he accidentally shot their mother. It turns out that wooden doors are no match even for a young boar. Venison was a common addition to the lunch boxes in the school cafeteria. Gun cabinets were viewed as essential furniture, their importance falling in place somewhere between a sofa and a table.
I grew up in Texas but I guess you could say Texas didn’t grow up in me.
My parents were more hippie than cowboy. I was raised in a peace-loving anti-gun household. I developed a wariness of guns. I stayed far away from them and felt anxious if one was in sight. This was a problem since it was Texas. Most of those gun cabinets in my friend’s homes? Yeah, glass fronts to show off the weaponry. I wasn’t fearful of all weapons. After all, I did become a fencer. But guns triggered (sorry, couldn’t resist) a fear in me that I chose not to confront.
And then I met Brock. My fiance is ex-army. He grew comfortable with shooting during his service. Since then, he has taken several gun courses to improve his tactical training and to supplement what he practices/teaches with sticks and knives. He is good with a gun – he can send the target to the back of the range and when it returns, it will have a tight circle of holes in an intended area. He never pushed me, but he wanted me to become more comfortable around firearms. I agreed. I knew that my fear stemmed from ignorance. I also was in the early stages of confronting my fears, and this seemed like a natural step.
If my mom has read up to this point, she is probably shaking her head and wondering where I went wrong. Sorry, mom:) You may not want to read the rest…
For the first year we were together, my exposure therapy was simply watching him clean his weapon after returning from the range and handling an unloaded gun. Last year, I took my first trip to the range. I was nervous, but mainly curious, as I stood in the lobby/viewing area watching the shooters behind the layers of bullet proof glass. I was okay while I slipped on my hearing protection and safety glasses. I was fine until I opened that second door that led into the range and my body reverberated with the sound of a shot. It was visceral. My body startled and shook with every blast. It elicited a primal fear in me. I wanted to exit that door and never look back.
But I stayed. My whole life, I have been wound tight, jumping at noises and physically reacting to stressors. When I experienced so much loss from deaths in high school and trauma from the divorce, this tendency was heightened. I realized that the range was a huge desensitization opportunity – a time for me to be exposed to a sound and feeling that scared me yet carried no negative repercussions. I just stood there against the back wall for a time, watching and listening, still jumping at every discharge. And then Brock motioned me up to the booth.
He showed me how to tell that the weapon was unloaded and had me dry fire a few times to get used to the grip. He then helped me load it and coached me on how to breathe and fire. My mind emptied as I pulled the trigger for the first time. The recoil, although I knew it was coming, still surprised me. I reset and slowly shot the remaining 7 rounds. I don’t think I ever even made the paper target dance, but that was okay.
Yesterday was my third trip to the range, this time with a gun that is sized more for me. The sounds of the range barely bother me now, but I still struggle with relaxing while I shoot. I have a tendency to pull the barrel up as I depress the trigger. Interestingly, this only happens when the weapon is loaded.
I am reacting out of anticipation rather than reality. Yup. Still learning that one.
By the end of the session, I was starting to find the balance between a secure grip and an overly tight one. I was learning how to hold on and relax at the same time. I am still no sharpshooter, but at least more of my rounds hit my target rather than the ones next to me. I am still not comfortable with guns but they no longer have power over me in the same way. By facing my fear, I have gained some control over my reactions. I’ll never be a marksman and I’ll never have a gun rack in my car, but I also feel like I don’t have to avoid guns altogether. Not everything has to be all or none.
So, I guess now that the girl has moved out of Texas, a little bit of Texas has moved into the girl. You probably still won’t want to call on me in the event of a zombie apocalypse, however. I’ll leave that one to those who can actually hit the target:)
A quick note on gun control:
There are some who feel that the solution to society’s ills is to arm everybody. Others believe that the answer is found in disarming everyone. The reality? Neither option is a panacea and both are reactions born of fear. We want to control the bad things that happen. But the reality is that we cannot. And that is often scarier than any gun could ever be. There are no easy answers and there are no quick fixes. But I think we can all benefit from recognizing and confronting our fears rather than allowing them to speak for us.