What do you do when the unthinkable happens? When you find yourself living in what seems to be a bad dream? Unfortunately, it is a place that some of us find ourselves in. Bad things happen to good people. We hear that a lot. It’s true, and it is something I have been struggling with a lot the past few years. Why her? Why me? Why us? None of it makes sense. It seems unfair. It is in these places that we have no choice but to keep moving forward one day at a time in order to survive. The alternative is to give in, and give up.
I wish sometimes that someone had given me a guidebook on surviving tragedy. Maybe it would have made navigating the journey easier or faster. Then again, I probably would not be the same person I am today. Life will throw us those things we don’t expect. They will take us by surprise, and take our breath away. The one thing I have learned is that there is HOPE. I know because I have had to figure that out. While it is true that I am somewhat of an optimist, it doesn’t make it any easier. I have had my share of dark, lonely days. The ones when tomorrow seems far away.
Each one of us has a story of some sort to tell. Some story of adversity that we can share with others – to give them hope that they are not alone, and so they can see others have navigated through to the other side. Our family may not be quite to the end of the story, but we have made it very far on this journey. This is our story of hope. One voice can announce that there is freedom. This is not just one story, but the story of many. It is the story of thousands of voices that have been silenced in shame and fear due to sexual assault. In our country, 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. One brave voice can make a difference between hope and despair. If you are one of those voices that have been silent, I want you to know that you are not alone and that there is hope. It is my goal that someday there will be no more suffering in silence. Everyone deserves for their story to be heard. Everyone deserves healing.
From the time I was just a child my main goal in life was to be a good mother and wife. I vowed to protect my children and raise them right. I was blessed to be able to stay home with my children, until my divorce when my oldest was eight. At the time I was homeschooling. Our days were filled with lessons, nature walks, baking, and crafts. After the divorce our lives were turned upside down. It was a traumatic time. In a matter of months we moved, I went to work, I put the kids in school, and I began college. We were strong during that time, and a team. We made it a point each day to find something to be grateful for.
As the years went on, it seemed that we were being blessed abundantly and that life was beginning to turn around. Until that one day. It shattered our lives and made me question everything I believed in.
I vaguely remember the day she told me about it. We were sitting on the front porch. The sun was going down, and there was a chill in the air. She was curled up on the little settee with her face hiding beneath a blanket. As a mother, it is the one thing you never want to hear. Much of that day is a blur now, although some things are seared into my mind forever. Someone had hurt my baby. It would eventually take two years before her brain would even allow herself to remember everything. She did what many do. For months she had hid her story from me. The details that came out over time were hard for me to comprehend. It was a stranger, and it involved a gun, and both sexual and physical assault. It was so hard for me to let my mind go there, but I often did.
In the months that followed her telling, I dragged myself through each day. She walked around like a wounded animal. We began our weekly visits to see a therapist in a city an hour away from us. Those weeks turned into years. They diagnosed her with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Long talks happened in the car on the way to those appointments. We discussed the trials, fears, her struggles with her faith, and the hopes for the future. Every trip involved a celebration of life – a cup of coffee at the Starbucks across the street, or a red velvet cupcake from the bakery next door. Those days were bittersweet. Our relationship grew. Her strength amazed me. Often I would look at her, so fragile, and so beautiful. She was so undeserving of the pain she was enduring. I had never thought too much about heroes before. This child of mine was becoming my hero.
During that time my doubts about my faith surfaced and some days I felt angry. For twenty years my life had revolved around my faith. My God had always been there for me. I had never wavered in my faith before. How could I trust again? There was so much confusion during this time.
The next year brought new symptoms. She began to have nightmares every night. Then soon after that the flashbacks began. Those moments would take my breath away. Sometimes she would try to spare me the pain. She was so brave. I also became good at hiding my feelings. She needed me to be strong for her. Many days I would go to work, shut my office door, and cry at my desk. Our life was so unpredictable and so similar to a storm. Some days were so beautiful. I truly felt grateful for each one of them. Then without warning, the skies would open up and the dark clouds would roll in. PTSD is unpredictable and it controls your world. There are very few normal days. They are either very good, or very bad. Life was a rollercoaster of emotion. I longed for normal again. We made many trips to doctors to seek answers. I don’t know how we made it day to day. Things continued to grow worse. I began to do research on doctors, therapists and treatments. I scoured the PTSD support sites online. Surely there had to be an answer. Thankfully I found her help. We connected with a Doctor thousands of miles away. He was able to work with us via Skype. Things are so much better today. For those of you suffering from PTSD know that there is help.
Eventually the answers I was seeking personally came to me. I think I wanted a complicated explanation – something that would explain everything. It wasn’t complicated, or some major revelation. The simple truth came to me in a silent whisper one night. Things happen in an imperfect world. We live in a world where there is sickness and death. In our case, a bad thing happened when one person made a bad choice to hurt another. Innocent people sometimes suffer at the hands of others. We can’t control another’s will. There is no discrimination when it comes to tragedy. It can happen to any of us.
Around this time my daughter and I went to see the movie The Giver. Watching the movie was a turning point for me. It was about a perfect community, without pain and suffering. It was a community void of emotion, both positive and negative. It was a very bland and empty life. I remember walking out of the movie feeling stunned. The pain we have been through has been hard. However, I can’t imagine a world without beauty and passion. Sometimes we have to accept both the good and the bad in order to love this beautiful life.
So what do you do when the unthinkable happens? You do the best you can. Take one step at a time, then one day at a time. Be proud that you are a survivor of hard things. Never give up! Agatha Christie sums it up well, “I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.”