My Halloween Trauma Lingers

Photo by flaviobarros on Morgurefile

On Halloween, in broad daylight, when I was 10 years old, a man in a Camaro tried to lure me into his car with candy.

Fortunately, I knew about Stanger Danger (although we didn’t use that phrase when I was a kid), and took off on my bike away from the direction his car was parked. This was on El Camino in Atherton, in the parking lot of the old Roger Reynolds Nursery, 1970.

I rode my bike through my tears and shaking to the Shell station on El Camino where Oak & Violet is now. The men who worked there were wonderful to me. They put my bike in their truck and drove me home. The police were called. The man wasn’t found.

I hated Halloween after that, and it has colored my view of it ever since. In my cortical, thinking brain, I know Halloween isn’t the culprit here. However, my limbic brain doesn’t get the message. Subsequently, I have never wanted to go to a costume party. I don’t wear costumes. This is trauma at work. I was “fine” since I didn’t get in the car. But I wasn’t fine. My antenna was–and still is–always up. Girls and women always have to be careful–and boys and men, too.

I’d like to say I overcame this Halloween trauma, and in some ways I have, and in others, I haven’t.

Here are a few examples of not overcoming this trauma:

  • It’s fresh in my mind each Halloween. The place, the car, my bike, which direction we were each facing, the weather.
  • I remember the incident every year, with feelings assorted from fear to anger to indignation.
  • I’m very careful about where I walk alone. For instance, I won’t go walking at Bayfront Park alone despite the fact that I think it’s pretty safe there.
  • Electric cars being so quiet as they come up on me puts me on edge.
  • Cars slowing down near me while I’m walking and no one else is around is stress-inducing.

Here are a few examples of overcoming this trauma:

  • When I became a mom, I didn’t want to pass my Halloween trauma along to my son. I didn’t tell him about it for many years because I didn’t want to ruin Halloween for him, too. You bet your ass, I watched over him carefully on Halloween (and every other day; trying my best to do it without hovering). I made sure to help him with his costume, and worked hard to show enthusiasm for and with him. And, of course I taught him about Stranger Danger.
  • I learned how to soothe my 10-year-old girl-self each Halloween.
  • I have learned to have healthy self-talk about it. I tell myself: “You were paying attention.” “You took care of yourself and didn’t get in the car.” “You did a good job, especially for a 10-year-old in a situation you never expected to encounter.”
  • I don’t usually think about it at other times of year.

Trauma has its way with the limbic brain, leaving one in fight, flight, or freeze mode. Being on high alert too much isn’t healthy for bodies, minds, hearts, and souls. Cortisol causes physical damage.

It’s easy to dismiss your early trauma(s). You tell yourself, “That was a long time ago; it doesn’t affect me now.” Maybe not, maybe so.

I’m not a trauma expert. There are many wonderful trauma experts in Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area. Contact one if you notice lingering effects.