TSA & choices…

This past weekend, I flew to America… It sounds surreal to be writing that… but, I did… I flew internationally for the first time in about 20 years… and I flew alone…

I was incredibly anxious about the trip… I worried that I’d get lost; not be able to cope on such a long flight; and the big one… I was terrified of the authority figures associated with the trip – in particular the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA). I have seen the videos, and read the blogs about some of the horrific encounters that people have experienced with TSA over the years… The inappropriate pat-downs, the x-rays, and the arrogance of the officers were all mentioned to varying degrees… I’d managed to reality check some of these stories by talking to Allison and the friend that I was going to visit; but, the fears still lingered.

My trip started out really well… I made the trip to Auckland easily, making it through customs and the departure process as if I’d done it before… It’s easy to forget that the process is set-up to keep the flow of people moving, so there were lots of signs and people available to help. The flight from Auckland to Los Angeles was great… I watched movies (The Intouchables was brilliant), and I even managed to get a bit of sleep. When I got to Los Angeles, things again went smoothly… I cleared customs, found the area to forward my luggage to the next flight, met my friend, and took some photos…

Theme BuildingThen, it was time for our connecting flight… We found the terminal, and despite the best efforts of a very slow elevator, we arrived on the right floor for our departure… All we had to do was get through a TSA checkpoint… The queue of people seemed to be moving fairly quickly, which gave us hope that this would also be an easy process… I cleared the identity check, and emptied my gear into the trays to be x-rayed… It was all going smoothly… The person in front of me had to go through the scanner twice, but that didn’t bother me, as I knew I had nothing to hide… Then it was my turn… I stood on the foot markers, raised my arms into the air, and was scanned… I exited the machine, but was immediately sent back into it due to some “anomalies” that were detected… the scan was repeated… Again, there were “anomalies”… Then I heard the words I feared the most… “We need a supervisor for a female pat-down…”

I couldn’t believe it… I stood in mute terror… My friend gathered my gear from the luggage scanner and stood waiting on the other side of the barrier… Then, we waited…

And waited…

And waited…

My anxieties sky-rocketed… I couldn’t stop my legs from shaking…

My friend asked what the problem was… but, all the TSA officer would say, was that there were “anomalies”…

What seemed like hours passed… but, I now know that it was about 20 minutes before the TSA supervisor arrived. Two female officers escorted me to a small curtained area in what appeared to be a staff locker room. They asked my friend if he wanted to go with us, and he thankfully agreed…

He mentioned that I experience anxiety and didn’t like to be touched…

We both repeated that I experience anxiety when the supervisor asked me if there was anything that they needed to be aware of… I think they were wanting to check if I had anything on me… but, I knew I didn’t…

I was told to face the wall and hold my arms out… She explained what she was going to do, just before she did it…

Did she pat down my arms first? I think so… I don’t remember her touching near my neck, but I think she did… I think that’s when the tears started…

She asked me to turn around…

She patted down my legs…

I remember looking straight ahead… trying to stay present so that I didn’t make things worse…

I remember my friend telling me that I was doing really well… that it would soon be over…

It seemed to go on forever, but I know it was quick and efficient…

After she finished, I followed them back to the check point where the supervisor tested her gloves for substances…

It was only then that I was given the all clear…

I was vaguely aware of the other people in the queue looking at me… all I could manage to do was pull on my shoes; and, at my friend’s insistence, sit down on a bench nearby…

This is where I finally collapsed… I couldn’t stop shaking… I took some anxiety medication and waited for that slow easing of the pain wrapped around my chest… the tingling in my face and hands… the hell of the panic…

I don’t know how long we sat there… I remember being doubled over, worrying that my obvious agitation might make the TSA people uncomfortable… I didn’t want them to feel bad for doing their job…I didn’t want anyone to feel bad… all the while, the internal chaos kept escalating…

I felt so violated… I had been touched against my will… my friend had told me that I was doing well for allowing that touch…

It triggered memories of the past… of people touching me against my will… of people who should have protected me, ignoring what was happening… It was all too much…

I questioned my friend… a part of me felt betrayed by him… lost… confused…

It wasn’t until the next day that I could stand back from the situation and look at what really happened… In the past, people made the choice to hurt me, others made the choice to turn away from my pain, and I became lost within their choices…

In the TSA situation, the officers were doing their job without the intent of hurting me… they did everything possible to make the process easier for me… My friend did everything within his power to make the process easier for me by reassuring me… by standing with me… by being present with me during my chaos…

He was my anchor…

I lost that distinction for a time… my hurts overwhelmed me… the pain was too great… But, the motivations of the choices that the people who hurt me in the past, were very different from those made by the people around me in the present…

For that, I’m very thankful…

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13 thoughts on “TSA & choices…

  1. Gosh, I’m so proud of you! You’ve come through what was clearly a hideous experience, you’ve identified what was going on for you and in the aftermath you’ve come to a very sensible conclusion about it all. The distinction you have pointed to is very important and I’m glad that you felt like the security officers and your friend were on your side. I’ve always felt very at home in the States (my dad was American and I’ve been there a lot) but it can be a big unfriendly place. I hope you have lots of chances to enjoy new experiences and that you continue to be thankful. Warmest best wishes for the rest of your trip!

    • Hi Annelise,

      It was a hideous experience… but, there has been so many experiences since that time that have been amazing! The people I’ve met have been incredibly nice, I’ve seen squirrels and fireflies for the first time… held a snake at the pet shop… Lots and lots of positives…

      I am worried about my return flights next week… I think I’ll have to go through two TSA check points this time around… :-/ Hopefully it will be a smoother process…

      Please take care,
      CG

  2. CG,

    I was about to get really mad and drive out to California and call the TSA people a bunch of poopy heads for causing you so much anxiety and emotional pain. I’ve often thought I’d never fly again for fear of enduring exactly what you described!

    However, you did a good job of putting it in perspective. It still isn’t fair that we have to subject ourselves to that sort of invasion of our personal space! But, like you mentioned, the TSA agents are just doing a job. They do those searches day and night, and the only thing they’re thinking of is whether or not they are coming into contact with an item not allowed on the plane. They do not want to hurt or frighten us. (I’d still like to leave dog poo in the shoes of the policy makers for being insensitive buffoons,though!)

    I suppose we can think of it like going to the dentist or the doctor. We do those things (um, or I’m suppose to….), even though they’re often uncomfortable, because we choose to keep ourselves healthy. You made the brave decision to face a possible pat down so you could travel to see your friend! That was a super healthy decision!

    I understand how you described feeling a bit betrayed by your friend, but I’m glad you were able to see that he did not abandon you or allow anything inappropriate to happen like people in your past. He was there caring about your well being the entire time, I’m sure.

    I’m happy you’ve had fun experiences in the U.S. 😀 I like to think we’re nice people and we have lots of cool critters! lol and artsy yard ornaments! 😛

    Take care,
    rl

    • Hi rl,

      It was really scary… But, the people were really nice… When talking about it all with my friend later, we both sort of came to the conclusion that they didn’t think that I had anything on me, but that they still had to do their job. I was really aware of doubling over on the bench after the pat down… I was so worried about making the TSA people and my friend uncomfortable… I know that sounds silly, but I didn’t want anyone to feel bad for my reaction…

      I’m still glad I came to America though… this place is incredible 🙂 … It’s really funny how the little things catch me… like turning right on a red light… the light switches being the opposite position for on/off than I’m used to… and then there’s the things like the squirrels and fireflies… Just amazing!

      It was pretty obvious that pat downs were rare… TSA don’t want to do them as they take time… So, while it’s something to consider when flying, I’m not sure how much it should influence whether you decide to fly or not… It was scary, but the benefits of being here have made it worthwhile… I did forget that for a bit though… :-/

      Please take care,
      CG

      • 🙂 Yayee! Glad you think we have a nice place here in the States! We don’t have very many castles, but it’s still a pretty neat place. *hopes she’ll treat us kindly when she’s high commander of the conquered world* 😉

  3. Hi Scattered Pieces,I am glad that if this traumatic experience HAD to happen, at least it happened when you had your friend present!! How awful and you did so well!!! What an adventure on the other side of it – flying to America. The other great strategies you used was discussing the potential pitfalls with Allision so at least you had a wee bit of foreknowledge in preparation. Very proud of you!!

    • Hi,

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting…

      It was scary; but thankfully, I had numerous avenues of support to assist me in working it through… Looking back it almost seems ironic that this would happen, considering my fears. I just hope it doesn’t happen on my return to NZ, where I will have less immediate support…

      Take care,
      CG

  4. When I read your description I got scared at the thought of it 😦
    I’m glad you weren’t alone and I really hope, that you didn’t have to endure anything like this again on your flight back to NZ.
    But besides this hideous experience. I’m soooooo proud of you that you were able to make this journey to the US, meet your friend, and make tons of positive experiences 🙂 This is wonderful! Aren’t squirrels cute little animals? 🙂
    Please take care and safe hugs if ok ((((CG))))
    LSC

    • Hi LSC 🙂

      I’m not sure what it is about me, or the TSA scanners, but I was again picked up for “anomalies” in exactly the same areas on my return to NZ. It was quite a different experience this time though, as I was given a very quick pat down of the two effected areas, rather than the full pat-down that I received on my way to America. It was scary and confusing… but, no where near as traumatic…

      It was an incredible trip… one that I’m so glad I made, and one that I’d love to repeat 🙂 Squirrels are sooo cute!!

      Please take care, and with (((warm safe hugs to those who want them)))
      CG

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