Stolen handbag: huge trigger

Yesterday I had my handbag stolen, right in front of me. I was doing a photoshoot in public grounds, the bag and equipment were maybe 5 stairs away from us as I was being photographed, when some young man in a hoody grabbed my bag and some photography stuff and ran for it. The day had been so calm and peaceful, spent in the afternoon sun in some gorgeous grounds, that for a brief moment I was just stunned it had happened at all.

In reality, whilst losing the handbag (and stuff in it – new phone, identifying documents, etc) was irritating, it’s hardly the end of the world. Compared to everything else, having my handbag stolen is a little mosquito irritating me as it flies around the huge gaping wound left by my past. I was therefore relatively calm. Stressed, and quickly ringing banks to cancel cards etc, and irritated at what the bill will be (phone uninsured, doh), but okay. The person I was with was lovely, and in any case it was still a gorgeous afternoon in a lovely place. And, for a strange unique moment in my life, a strange man was more interested in what objects I owned, than my body. Which, in the midst of the stress, was a strange kind of relief. He may have taken my rights away from owning my phone, etc…but unlike every other man who has robbed from me in the past, he did not make any single attempt to rob my sense of body ownership and physical safety. Who I was as a person mattered not; he wanted my phone.

So this is good, right? Well, yes. Except for the 2% of my brain that still believes that I am only worth something if my body is being used. This part of my brain is there for good reason and it’s hardly surprising that it exists; my abusers only ever praised me when I was submissive or doing as I was told, and in the desperate times where I sold myself on the streets, it was because my sense of worth came from knowing men liked my body. It was how I’d been brought up. At the age of 5 I knew what a grown man in his 40s wanted in bed. It’s not an asset I’m proud of, but nonetheless my self-worth lodged itself for a long time in my ability to just give people what they want via my body. This part of me is now only 2%. But it’s still there.

So whilst most of me was relieved to finally have had my body left alone, this other bit of me has been niggling away since…. “how hideous are you, that your body is worth less than a phone?” is one thing that keeps flying around my head. It’s incredibly irrational, and of that I am very aware, but it doesn’t make it any easier to manage. Through one way or another, my self-worth is wobbling because a man stole my bag and not my body. At the same time, in a paradox, I am overwhelmed with relief that a man stole my bag and not my body. It’s exhausting; an inner battle I wasn’t prepared for and don’t really know how to handle.

On top of that, the experience was incredibly triggering. I had a sinking feeling when I felt myself strongly dissociate at the time. There was an initial spark of panic, and then I went extremely calm, no adrenaline, no shaking, no emotions…just calm, robotised, like a wave of numbness-inducing water had washed over me. My heart rate, which has momentarily shot up, was quickly back down to normal. I almost felt bored – I’ve never dissociated so strongly for something so ‘safe’ in my life (well I wasn’t in danger). My body and mind were geared up, looking for this huge threat to my life that had caused me to dissociate, and obviously finding nothing. I just remained very calm. Gave my statement to security and the police – something which would normally have me either very close to a panic attack and/or flashback if not in one completely. But I was in neither state. I calmly spoke to them.

My sinking feeling when I felt myself dissociate was because I knew that the moment the dissociation lifted, I was therefore going to be in a messy place. To dissociate so strongly must have meant some part of me was either overwhelmed or triggered to a fairly extreme level. I couldn’t understand why either would be the case – it was just a handbag – and was worried about what would happen once the dissociation had lifted.

The answer? Hysterically crying. For hours. And it felt ridiculous. How much total hell have I survived, and yet here I was, hysterical because of some man stealing my handbag?! But in self-analysis I realised there were several reasons why this had triggered such a terror response. The PTSD paranoia part of me knows my diary is on the stolen phone, and after spending so much of my life followed and hurt, I am suddenly frightened by the idea that some stranger will know exactly where I’m going to be, and at what times, for the next few weeks. Never mind the phone is probably already wiped and sold by now, PTSD paranoia doesn’t work like that. There is a 1% chance he has looked at my diary and knows where I am and is in fact worse than some common thief. The result: I’m terrified to leave the house. But also I’m aware that this is stupid, and living through far worse terror and real extreme danger didn’t leave me housebound, so I’m not going to let some silly thief do that to me now.

It’s also the violation. Okay so my body was left alone and at the time I thought this meant there was zero violation, but I’ve just had a sharp lesson in what other kinds of violation entails. Whether or not my body was touched, objects and belongings personal to me…with personal identifying details, photos of my partner and I, recordings of my new songs, emails to friends, etc…have been taken from me and I’ve had no option but to go with it. All of my sense of power and control over my own belongings was removed in a split second. The photos that I cannot see again have probably been wiped, seen as void of any worth…never mind the precious memories they held for me. Photos are so important to me; I’m grateful for the chance to take photos of wonderful memories now, and have a documented version of my life in freedom. To the thief, the photos were nothing. And then the guilt and “you’re an idiot” feelings kick in: why didn’t I back the photos up? Why was my phone so insecure? Why didn’t I download a security app? Why didn’t I keep my bag with me? Etc, etc, etc… Never mind he took advantage, I need to find a reason as to why it was my fault. Exactly as in my past. That way I keep some degree of control, which prevents one spiral of bad mental health, but in turn just fills me with guilt and a sense of being a complete idiot, with kick-starts a different spiral of mental health issues.

So I have been violated, once again…on an extremely significant lower scale than anything else, but still violated. And in a very unexpected situation and once again has left me powerless and questioning my worth and filled with dread.

So as small and seemingly insignificant the handbag was, the knock on effects have been huge, and growing… and I’m a panic-attack mess, and feel beyond ridiculous for it…


5 thoughts on “Stolen handbag: huge trigger

  1. Try not to get upset about feeling like this- you’ve identified the reasons you feel like this and it is ok to go to pieces, to cry, to feel bad. It is a natural reaction to what happened- people without PTSD and trauma will go to pieces after having their bags stolen, actually for similar reasons to you. But unlike you, they will not be dealing with the acute feeling of violation you’re experiencing right now. Take some time out for yourself, find someone to talk to if you want. Curl up in a blanket, breathe deep, and remember that you are still safe and you have a new life now. x

  2. I’m so sorry you have to go through this.

    The man who stole your bag didn’t value your body less: he valued it more, and he just wasn’t evil enough to steal something worth so much. It’s like if you drop a note, someone will probably pick it up and give it to you, but if you leave a coke in your dorm fridge, someone will take that. That is how morality for other people works. They break little rules, and do little bad things, but not big ones

    One thing that struck me is that everyone who has something stolen feels violated. You have this huge extra burden of PTSD, but part of that sense of violation is what the rest of the human race that hasn’t been grossly violated feels. You are developing a sense of ownership over at least your things, and you are getting to experience “normal” life traumas, just in a PTSD kind of way. It’s not always that nice, but I think maybe it’s progress.

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