Part of life is surviving situations we didn’t plan for or ever dream would happen. These events can range from infertility, miscarriage, divorce, loss of a parent, birth trauma, or really any event that leaves us feeling shaken to the core. There are varying levels of trauma and recovery times. We can’t change what happened, so we have to learn to accept it as part of our story. It can be a challenge to figure out where to turn, or how to process everything.
One of my most challenging situations helped me believe in myself and realize I can overcome anything. It is only part of my story, but it left me broken, truly broken and in need of repair.
In 2010 my best friend and I were both divorced; me with two children and her with a son. We decided that we would live together for a year at my house to process our unexpected life change. The five us had a great year. It was really a very sweet time in our lives and we made many wonderful memories. The kids got along well and we kept each other company. We called ourselves “Kat and Ally” after the eighties sitcom. We were a family and she will forever be a part of my village.
Early one morning I heard my friend scream from her room which was right next to mine. I was groggy as I woke, not sure what I was hearing, but the sound was horrific. Something was horribly wrong. "What’s wrong?” I yelled. I opened my door just as a man came running out of her bedroom. Instinctively I chased him while screaming “Get out of my house”. I picked up a picture frame, threw it at him, and locked the door after he fled. My friend ran upstairs to get the children. We all locked ourselves in my bedroom, pushed the dresser in front of the door and called 911. I was totally traumatized and not masking any of my emotions for the children’s behalf. “What the fuck had just happened?” It was like I could hear myself, but I wasn’t really there anymore. I was telling the 911 dispatcher that someone had been in my house. She asked “Did he have a weapon?”. I don’t know? I looked at my friend and asked “Did he have a weapon?”. “Yes”, she said “a small knife.” What?! The dispatcher alerted me that the police were at my house and to let them in so they could secure the house. There were other officers looking for the man that had so wrongly ruined our seemingly perfect Kat & Ally environment. My friend called our families and our fathers arrived shortly after the police. Thankfully they took the children home with them.
After they left I found out what all that had happened. The suspect came into our home through an unlocked window in the living room. He had gone into my roommate’s room, climbed on top of her, holding the knife to her neck and a hand on her mouth. He told to be quiet but she didn’t listen. She kicked and screamed and alerted me. He tried to get back on the bed but she kicked him again. He then heard me calling from the other room and ran out of her room right as I had exited mine.
It was 5:30 in the morning before the police were done. My friend and I said good-bye and went to our parent’s homes. I remember getting to my parents house, my children were lying in bed with my mom. I climbed in and tried to sleep, but there was no way. I still could not believe what had just happened. I could never go home. I would never feel safe again. I would never go outside at night again. I would have to sell my house.
The next morning I took my children to school thinking their usual routine would be best for them. I used the resources at the school. Their schools had wonderful school counselors that were able to meet with them that day. They also got to get away from me, their basket case of a mom, which allowed me to start processing, start healing. I called my counselor that helped me process my divorce. She saw me that day. No, I wasn’t ok after seeing her once, but I had set the tone that I, we would heal. I know now that I did exactly what my children and I needed but at the time I was simply surviving.
At first I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t even want to drive by. But part of healing is facing what happened and taking control over the feelings that make you feel helpless. So I put security measures at my house. We installed all new flood lights and new alarm system with window sensors on every window. I still wasn’t ready to live there. I continued to go to counseling, but I couldn’t sleep, even at my parent’s house. I had developed a habit of checking the windows and doors multiple times a night. It became clear that I would need to take something for anxiety.
After nearly three months I was getting tired of living with my parents. I would go to my house for some time during the day. The kids and I even had play dates there, but would return to my parent’s in the evening. I finally decided we needed to go back. I could not let that man’s actions take my home any longer. The first few nights were horrible. I was terrified and didn’t sleep at all. Friends and family spent the night to help us transition home and slowly I became more comfortable. Finally I could sleep a little more each night. We ended up staying in that house another two years.
Nearly five years later I no longer feel fear on a daily basis. I am still diligent with checking windows and doors; probably will always be and that is ok. There was a time I truly felt like I would never feel normal or safe again, but I do. I rarely even think about it anymore to be honest. I had to commit to moving forward and I had to commit to going back home. I had to dig deep at times to put one foot in front of the other. I had to pretend to be brave until I believed that I was.
Through all of this I have found that processing is vital to healing. There is no shame in seeing a professional or taking medication. There is no shame in admitting fears and that just because everyone is “okay” (as in physically safe) that doesn’t mean it is over and all is actually okay. Lastly I have found that this too shall pass…with time, therapy, the initial use of medication, and the support of family and friends.