When a traumatic event happens, life doesn’t stop. The issues, burdens, worries, problems you had before the trauma remain. Not only do they remain, they intensify. Take all that, intensified and pile the trauma on top.
After surviving a near death event. You change. Those around us don’t want us to, but we do. “Don’t let this change you,” they say. Honestly I don’t think they mean any harm, however the reality is, it hurts. Whether it changes us for better or worse (that’s up to us), the truth is trauma changes you, and it kills you.
My traumatic event happened Tuesday, March 17, 2015, the week of my daughter’s spring break. We’d just returned from Orlando, Florida where we’d gone to Sea World.
While preparing to be in for the night my daughter asked to go get ice cream. After wandering around the house trying to find my shoes and keys my spirit told me to go and take my shower. After going back and forth about that I told her we’d go once I got out the shower. So, I left her there in the family room took the 30-second walk to my bathroom and got in the shower.
It wasn’t 5 minutes later that I heard a glass shatter. Turning around in full mommie mode prepared to fuss about how and why my daughter came in the bathroom with a glass only to break it – I didn’t see her. Still hearing the shattering of glass and noises I can’t explain I see holes appearing in my wall, then it finally hit me, that shots were being fired into my home.
I quickly hit the floor crawling to my daughter all while screaming her name. No answer. I yelled louder. No answer. Then I thought, I left her sitting down, I didn’t want her to stand up because if she did, she’d surely be shot. Then another thought, ‘What if she’s already been shot? What if she’s dead?’ A 30-second walk from my bathroom to the family room suddenly became a never ending drawn out crawl while trying to prepare myself for the unknown. When I finally reached her, she was unharmed. Physically at least.
Eventually I was able to call 911 and hit the panic button on my alarm keypad. With gunshots still shattering the walls, breaking glass, pretty much destroying the home I’d worked so hard to build I accepted that this was the night I was going to die. What else could I do? I had no choice than to accept the inevitable. At 36 my life was over. My daughter was 3 years old. She was about to have a long life ahead of her without me. My life didn’t flash before my eyes, my daughter’s life did. I saw her going to prom, graduating from high school, getting married, even having a baby…and I wasn’t there. Instead there were other women standing in my place. For a brief moment I got mad. Angry. I questioned God about what I’d done that was so bad that I had to die like this.
Realizing that we were essentially trapped and I had no idea where the shooters were. I grabbed my daughter, prayed, asked God to take me not her and to not let me die in front of her – I didn’t want me dying to be her last memory of me.
Well, I’m typing this so obviously I didn’t die. You’re reading this so that means neither did you. I don’t know about you but for me while I did not die a physical death, I did die. Parts of me died. That night I died emotionally. I was hit with the reality that no matter how hard I try, I won’t always be able to protect my child. Later I died professionally, about eight months later while sitting in my office at the firm I realized that if I didn’t stop, literally stop, what I was doing at that exact moment I’d have a nervous breakdown. Afterwards I died financially. In less than a year I went from making more than a sustainable income to applying for assistance (now honestly that I didn’t feel too bad about, I’ve been working since I was fifteen I figured I’d paid enough into the system). During this time and beyond I died relationally. Friendships and family relationships became strained and heavy because I should just be able to get over it because we didn’t die. So no, I didn’t die, I just lost enough to where figuratively – I had. I was no longer the person I was on March 16, 2015.
The Jeanine that existed on March 16th, died the moment I accepted my date of death as March 16, 2015.
Since that day, I’ve been in what I like to call, Recovery or Rehab. Like after you have surgery and you go to recovery before you’re discharged. They want to make sure you can walk, use the bathroom, having no side effects from the anesthesia. Rehab, because I had to learn how to walk again. I had to learn how to deal with anxiety and PTSD.
That’s what these last five and a half years have been like. Recovery. Rehab. Learning how to function with anxiety and PTSD. I had to learn how to teach others how to treat me now, I am not the same person. And most importantly, I had to learn not to blame or unleash on other people what is now my new normal. I can’t make others suffer for what has happened to me. It’s not their fault.
It wasn’t until 2019 that I started to recognize March 16, 2015, Jeanine. Confident. Fearless. Relentless. I wasn’t back all the way but those parts of me started seeping through. Like a kid who is supposed to be in the bed, peeking around the corner to see if their parents are still awake. Then 2020, pandemic and all I saw A LOT more of her. Truth be told I wasn’t actively trying to make her resurface I was just trying not to die – again.
The last five years of recovery and rehab had now began to tell me I was ready. Ready to be released and resurrected. Years of attending therapy, researching and reading books, even attending a PTSD seminar were now showing their hand and letting me know it was time to let go. And even that hurt. Relationships built during that time were now changing or ceasing to exist. My focus changed. I’d learn that by accepting what happened didn’t mean that I was okay with it. That event and these last five and a half years are a PART and not my whole life. I still hope to live another 40 plus years so the last five are just a drop in the bucket and I get to determine how I live the next half of my life. No one else. I am exactly where I need and am supposed to be. And so are you. Yeah it hurt. Sucked. Was absolutely NOT fair and yet….I Survived That Sh*t! (And you did too!)