Back in 2017, my girlfriend and I took a trip to visit my family in New Hampshire. We both enjoyed sitting with people we knew well, enjoying their friendly faces and warm conversation.
Like most families, our conversation shifted toward a “remember the time…” direction, where we shared both happy and sad memories of the past.
As usual, the subject of my stepfather came up. He was a major influence in all of our lives, and quite a dangerous person when he was inebriated. However, we’d all been through so much that most of his past behavior was more laughable to us now than anything.
We chuckled as we talked about all the oddball and dysfunctional things he did throughout our life. It’s not that his antics were humorous. They were actually downright scary when he was drunk (and he was drunk a lot). But we’d all been to hell and back with him and were elated to be out of that fear, and beyond his control.
One of the stories my mom told me really made an impact. She recalled when my stepfather lobbed a hammer at her head. She said she heard it whiz by her ear because it was so close to her head.
The laughing and sharing stopped and we all sat there with our mouths open. I forget who spoke first, but I distinctly remember hearing:
“He threw a hammer at you? You could have died!”
To my mom, it was just one of the hundreds of “normal” events that happened during her relationship with him. To her, that one event was like a drop in the ocean compared to what else she had been through in that relationship.
She could have died that day.
That realization struck me hard. It made me understand something at such a deep level that I will never forget it. I realized:
Just because it was a miss doesn’t mean it didn’t leave a mark
As far as I’m concerned, he did hit her with a hammer that day.
I understand it’s a bit of an exaggeration to say that, but how close does danger have to be, and how often does it have to happen, before you realize just how much in harm’s way you really are?
What does it take for you to walk away from any dangerous situation – not just an abusive relationship, but anything that has the real potential of harming you?
I see too many people continuing to discount all the near misses in their life, not taking action to get away or prevent the next one that could actually strike them down.
There are accidents of course. And people lose their temper and do stupid things. But how many near misses do you really need to have happen in your life before you decide enough is enough?
My mom somehow survived 40+ years with someone so unpredictable that a simple shift in the wind could have determined her fate on any given day.
Don’t let the near misses be your “normal”.
Don’t let luck be your motivation to stay in any dangerous situation.
Don’t let the next near-miss be the collision that takes you out completely.
Comedian George Carlin summed up near misses quite nicely. He said:
“Here’s a phrase that apparently the airlines simply made up: near miss. They say that if two planes almost collide, it’s a near miss. Bull****, my friend. It’s a near hit! A collision is a near miss.”
I don’t mind forgiving people for ‘one-off’ bad behavior, but if continuous bad behavior puts you in the “near miss” zone more often than not, it’s time to seriously consider just how much risk you’re willing to take to stay in what could be a harmful or even deadly situation.
It has taken me 23 years to find this. I have lived with anxiety, panic attacks, depression, agoraphobia, and PTSD at different times in my life, for the majority of my life. Most, if not all, stems from trauma. I experienced a domestic violence situation in 1998 (with prior ongoing abuse for over three years with this same partner) where I was jumped from behind, choked until unconscious, and repeatedly threatened with a loaded gun. My upstairs neighbor heard me scream and called the police. The police came, an arrest was made, and I was taken to a shelter. I never went back.
I have tried to explain to several therapists between now and then that I have never gotten over the sound of the gunshot that didn’t happen. Every time I hear a loud, sudden noise, I hear the gunshot that never came. I feel like I’m constantly waiting for it, to feel it hit me, to feel my life ebbing away. And like some sick part of me will never be at peace until I do.
I never knew there was a term for this. I am going to bring this up at my next therapy session. I have been searching to make sense of this for a very long time. And nothing has EVER hit home like this. Thank you so much for writing this article.
I am so grateful you shared this. What a terrible situation! Wow. You definitely deserve a life without this continuing trauma. I hope you get a chance to share an update someday. I wish you much strength and healing through this. I appreciate you!