Today, I went to the movies.
I went alone. I bought my ticket online and had the lady at the ticket counter help me figure out how to retrieve it. I bought myself popcorn and a cherry coke. I sat alone through an intense 2-hour movie. I drove myself to the theater and back.
I believe this is the most independent thing I have ever done.
From childhood, I was conditioned to believe anything self motived is purely selfish. That bath you want? Selfish. That nap you want? Selfish. That thing you want to buy? Selfish. That aspirin for your headache? Selfish. Selfishness is sin. Sin brings damnation. And on and on until I was denying myself not just wants but needs. And I denied my needs until I wanted to deny myself life.
Today, I’m sitting on the edge of the bed with my thumb hovering over the “purchase ticket” button. I couldn’t help but tally up the cost of everything. Miles and gas with someone else’s car, better uses of my time, better uses of our money. Nothing about this was for anyone else. No one else wanted to see this movie. Everyone else is working or watching my kid.
I bought a ticket. I went to the theater. No one helped me make the decision. No one held my hand through the upsetting scenes. No one talked me out of the panic attack I had halfway through. No one walked with me out of the theater. No one drove me home.
Decision making paralyzes me. After my 2018 breakdown, my occasional nervous stutter became semipermanent. I found myself stuttering an explanation to multiple people who thought I was faking it. It’s so frustrating to live most of your life speaking easy and clear, then develop a speech impediment in your 30’s.
As treatment for my PTSD progressed, my stutter became less frequent. I then noticed that it mostly appeared when I was asked to make a decision. How are you feeling? Would you like a drink? What kind of tea would you like? Do you want to come over? Simple or complex, all decisions make me panic. My words catch in my throat. My lips contort and make exaggerated movements. I bob my head and try to force them out, but all I do is mouth soundlessly like a muted cartoon character.
I was raised to believe all decisions are either right or wrong and wrong decisions have dire consequences. If every decision you make can have a potentially disastrous outcome, then all decisions are a moment of crisis. The difference between pulling into the gas station here or across the street feels like life or death.
About a year ago, I first vocalized my desire to got to a movie by myself. Every time I have, people usually have the same reaction.
Me: I’m just curious.
Them: About what?
Me: About what it’s like to go to a movie theater alone.
I never do anything alone. I have an emotional need to have someone there at all times. And when I say need, I mean need. I literally have a panic attack if I’m left alone. I’ve been in therapy for about 10 years because of it. This post would become ridiculously long if I wrote down the reasons why this happens, but the fact is that I’m crippled by a need for another person with me. I do NOTHING alone. One of the major focuses of my therapy is to help me do things by myself.
Like making my own decisions. Alone.
I felt a flash of panic when I paid for my ticket. I watched the clock all the way to my showtime, wondering if I should try and get my money back. I bought myself a large popcorn. Large? Who is else is going to eat all this popcorn? I felt guilty when I took my seat and when I abandoned my seat for the bathroom before the waiter (yes, it was a theater with a waiter) had delivered my popcorn. I felt bad passing him in the hallway. I felt worse when 30 minutes into the movie, my mind started playing games with me.
I didn’t even know for certain I was going to the movies today, but still all last night I had nightmares about the apocalypse. (I know this seems extreme. That’s why I’m in therapy. But this is literally what my fears boil down to.) I’m in a dark theater, watching a world full of poverty, violence, and pain unfold above me. Movie theaters feel like watching events through a microscope. The problems and the pains and even the faces of people are bigger than real life. But the pain I’m watching is real pain that real people suffer. I begin to shake. I begin to wonder what is happening outside the theater.
Just like in my nightmares last night, I wonder if someone I love has died while I was in here. I wonder if an act of international war was committed. I wonder if someone in the theater has a gun in their pocket. Or a bomb. I wonder if everyone I’ve ever known and loved has vanished from the earth, leaving me behind to fend for myself in the coming tribulation.
As extreme and ridiculous as this all sounds, this is what is going through my mind 45 minutes into the film. The world around me becomes sharp and abnormally real, then fades back into a fuzzy documentary. I sit behind reality. Nothing is real. Not even me. Then a thousand hot fingers crawl over my stomach, reach into my throat, and squeeze.
I scramble for my cell phone and my keys. I have to leave. IhavetoleaveIhavetoleaveIhavetoleave.
No! No, then I’ll waste all the money I spent on a ticket and popcorn and I borrowed dad’s car and mom is watching Ellie and why am I such a baby? Why am I so selfish?
The panic attack subsides into a five minute period of self-loathing and furtive texting with my husband. I hate myself for bothering him. I hate myself for texting in the theater. I hate myself for wanting to leave. I hate myself. I hate myself for hating myself.
Then it passed. I sat back and watched another 30 minutes. I felt hot again. I checked my watch and hid my phone under my knitting to text my husband. This cycle repeats several times.
I had another panic attack as the ending approached. My heart raced as the music pounded. I felt lightheaded. It’s just excitement, I told myself. Not a heart condition. Don’t overthink it. Just watch. Nothing bad is happening to you. It’s all a movie.
Then it was over. I shoved my knitting into my bag, picked up my leftover popcorn and walked to the parking lot.
So strange. So stupid. But as I made my way towards the car, I felt older somehow. I never feel grown-up. I always feel helpless, childlike. I need someone to hold my hand through everything. I need someone to tell me when, to express their approval, to pat my hand and kiss me goodnight.
But today, as stupid as it seems to you and everyone else reading this, today I went to the movies. Nobody else wanted to see the movie, so I took myself. Nobody understood why I wanted to see it, or why I wanted to go to the theater alone. Nobody understood why I would pick such an intense and violent film to see alone. But I went. I sat through all two hours. I drove myself there and I drove myself back.
And it was a big deal to me. A very big deal.