Weapons and Women

This is a week of anniversaries. The 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, for instance, and the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. But today is my anniversary, my 5th. It’s now been five years since I last tried to handle pain by inflicting more, and deal with the damage in my life by dealing more. A couple retrospectives are in order.

Both the aforementioned presidents knew something about violence, and of course violence took both of them from us, at great cost to the country. So I could have reposted this first flashback on the 19th, or, with still-greater significance, on the 22nd:

“Use of Weapons”

(The friend I mention in the first lines no longer owns firearms, by the way, but my point stands.)

And how did I get out of that cycle of violence? Well, a lot of hard work, and a lot of patience. But I give credit where credit is due, and I give a lot of the credit to

These Women

Many of the women in question, when I praise them for their help in my return from darkness, tell me that I did the work; they just helped. Which is true. But the women in question made me want to do the work. There’s a lot I can do, if the Spirit is willing and my desire is strong. But the trick about depression is that internal motivation is hard to come by. Yeah, I did the work. Yeah, I got myself out of my hole. And yeah, now I’m much more able to get started and get things done on my own. But I could have stopped cutting any time. I could have gotten help any time. I didn’t want to. Not until these women gave me reasons. And so I am deeply blessed by the Spirit that I have known them.

I could add to the list of women by now, by the way, but that will be for future posts.

So rejoice, my friends! My clouds have lifted and my storm has passed. Five years of ever-improving health. Five years of getting stronger. Five years of victory. My scars are badges of honor now, nothing I am ashamed of, for they show the world how far I have come.

Sing a joyful song today, my friends, in honor of the Spirit of Healing and Life who so beautifully drew me out of darkness. Sing a joyful song and dance.

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“Use of Weapons”

I have an old friend, whom I have known off and on for half my life. I knew him when we were boys, and now I know him as a man; he’s funny, insightful, and generally a good friend. He was among the first to recognize my cutting for what it was. He also owns guns.

Whenever I was over at his apartment, he would get out his latest acquisition, put it together and show me the parts, occasionally demonstrating grip or aim. His eyes would always light up as he did so. For my part, I was nervous, and it showed; he would always take pains to show me that the safety was on, that the gun was unloaded, that I was safe.

Thing is, I was never for a moment worried about what the gun could do to me. I was worried about what the gun was doing to him.

You see, I’ve held a weapon in my hands before. I’ve felt the rush of power that goes through me when I do. It is thrilling. It is a little intoxicating. It is, perhaps, a primal thing — an old human instinct to  pick up a rock or a stick to use as a tool to make oneself stronger and safer.

Trouble is, weapons are tools made to inflict harm… and therefore made to exert power. That I know all too well, and I am reminded every time I look at the scars on my arm. When I held a weapon, things became clear; I had a measure of power over my pain and over my life. My knife gave me a way to dominate my problems. I was raised to not harm others, however, so I became my own target; I couldn’t hurt anyone else. Besides, I wasn’t dealing with my actual problems, just trying to simplify things with a thrill. So I have felt both a weapon’s allure and a weapon’s damage. And it hurt.

In fact, it hurt both ways.

When I see a weapon, therefore, I see its effects in both directions. I see the damage it can do to others: whose lives will the weapon claim? Whose body will be rent by it? Who will mourn? Who will hurt?

I also see the damage the weapon can do to its wielder: who will they stop seeing as people, and start seeing as targets? Who will they feel they have control over? Who will they feel they can dominate and coerce? What problems and disputes will they be tempted to simplify or resolve through using weapons, or threatening to? How will the weapon alter their anger? Their fear? Their grief? Will they take it out on others? On themselves?

Perhaps my history — first as a Quaker, then as a cutter — has misinformed me. Perhaps people with weapons need not be so altered; perhaps all those who defend the Second Amendment are well aware of the intoxication of going armed and doing harm, and guard against it; perhaps they are well aware of how much responsibility lies on them when they carry weapons or allow others to do so. Perhaps they are aware of the potential consequences and are content to run the risk.

Still, no matter if I am misinformed about the mental damage on the users, I feel at least a little qualified to speak to the physical damage done on the targets; I’ve seen the blood I’ve drawn, staunched the deep wounds I’ve inflicted, felt the pain I’ve dealt out. And I know that when it comes to weapons, power through doing harm is their only purpose; even when used as deterrents, it’s the potential for damage that gives them their power. They work by hurting. Hurting is their work.

So I think of innocents in the line of fire. I think of those like me who turn their weapons on themselves in a desperate bid at controlling something. I think of those who really are guilty of something, but are never given a chance to atone. I think of all those who love the targets, and their pain. And finally I think of what weapons did to my mind, that addiction to power and dealing pain, and wonder what might happen to other weapons users.

So no, I don’t trust weapons, from the pocketknife up to the atom bomb. I don’t trust their power and I don’t trust the hands that wield that power, be it a lone wolf or someone in uniform or just someone like me. People are not always healthy, after all.

And so for the sake of all, I don’t use a weapon anymore, and I hope others will think twice about using them as well.

(I am indebted to Iain Banks, who first used this title.)