There is a dark place. A dark space. It is where I go when something triggers a memory of the abuse I had to live through. I don’t want to go there. I don’t want to ever feel those feelings again. The dark place lies in a frozen state between now and long ago. It used to be a place of survival. I froze to survive. It first happened when I was a child being molested by an old man, and then his friend, and then his friend. It was a space of deep fear and survival instincts. A place of pain and loss. After a childhood of this place, I never thought I would experience it again until a number of years ago when I was sexually assaulted as an adult.
As a child I was so conditioned and programmed, and it happened so regularly that my brain and body knew how to shut down. I was on autopilot. I minimized the gravity of what had been done to me because it was all through a child’s eyes. When the same thing happened to me as an adult, every event I had blocked out as a child came flooding back. I thought I knew most of it but it was a mere fraction of the truth of my past. There were many that played a part in the destruction of my childhood and teenage years. It is a story of secrets and lies and abuse by too may to count, all at the cost of me.
As an adult the assault took me back to the place I had created as a child. I believe that is what saved my life. It benefited me at that moment but it is not benefiting me now.
I did not fight. I did not scream. I was frozen. I could not feel my arms or my legs. The sound of his voice was droning in my ears but fading in and out as I focused on things like the door knob and the telephone and the way he was pacing like an animal in a cage. It is a place in the mind that later feels like a weakness and a shameful behavior. It is hard to redefine those times of abuse as “survivor” or “warrior” when it really just was horror that still gives me nightmares every night of my life.
What I learned as a child was to never speak. Stay quiet. Be a good girl. Be still. And that is what I did as an adult which made him furious at first but also, most likely saved me. My head was spinning and I could not hear the words coming out of my mouth but when I did, I was begging. “Please just let me go.”
I do not choose to feel these feelings again but PTSD is a diagnosis that explains why trauma resurfaces sometimes daily.
PTSD is the dark place.
I want to stand up for myself. I want to say what I’m feeling in the moment. I want to be able to walk away (or drive away in my wheelchair) but I go to the dark place.
The smell of certain colognes and aftershaves take me there. Certain songs. Having a man come in my house to fix something that is broken that I don’t know. Not being able to get a smell off me. Dark place.
The baby owl story:
Last week I was out for a walk in my wheelchair and I was told of two baby barred owls in a nest. Being an animal lover and photographer I headed in that direction. I saw one baby in the nest and heard the distinctive cry of the owl. I also heard another cry on the ground. There were other people passing by and stopping and going and asking me questions but they did not really exist at that moment to me. I had to find the baby. There was a hawk that was flying near. The baby was crying. So I got out of my wheelchair and I crawled and crawled until I got the baby and wrapped her in a towel. When I got back in my chair I could not think. I knew I had hurt my hip and I was starting to shake. The mother owl landed at my feet. She looked at me. The baby looked at me. (Barred owl mothers cannot put their babies back into the nest)
I had opened an umbrella to try to keep the hawk away. People were asking me questions and I was ignoring them. My brain kept saying “ you have to save the baby, you have to save the baby” over and over again. ( I later apologized to those people and said I was really in another world at the moment). The mother was calling and I kept thinking what she must feeling not being able to save her baby and wanting to. I also kept thinking why did my mother or father or brother ever save me! They pretended like nothing ever happened to me. Anyway…I called the wild life rehab and everyone I knew. It took a few hours to get to someone and have them come meet me. I started to cry. I rocked the baby bird. I sang to the baby bird Amazing Grace and she fell asleep. Then I cried more. No one ever saved me. No one ever held me. No one ever sang to me and told me it would be ok as a child when I had clearly fallen out of the nest and into a den of vicious men. I went to the dark place.
When the rehabber got there she took the baby and I knew the baby would be in perfect hands. She was. The baby was fed and gained weight and was returned to the nest a few days later after a bad storm had passed.
I don’t remember getting all the way home. I just remember that I poured lemon juice all over my body, then alcohol, and I scrubbed my skin raw like I did as a child to try and remove the pain. I did not sleep for 3 nights. Thinking about the mother wondering where her baby was felt like it was destroying me. The mother owl, that night, flew with me as I went home. She landed in trees next to me.
When the owl was put back in the nest I went down to see her. I took photographs and planned to monitor the baby who I had named Melody until she was stronger, incase the rehabber had to come and get her again. Melody and her sibling who I named Lyric immediately snuggled and preened. I went down daily and for a few days Melody looked very weak. I lay in bed thinking would she have to be taken away from her mother forever? Would that be for the best? I mean should she starve or be saved and never see her family again? Would she be able to ever learn to hunt if she had to go back to rehab? She had to be safe and that was all that mattered and I declared I would make sure that she was. I prayed round the clock. I’ve always been this way about animals. Connected on a deep level. But this was different.
Due to the place that Melody fell from the tree, many neighbors gathered to look at the owls every day. They are beautiful. I went down every day and wrote extensive notes on Melody’s movements and if she was flapping her wings, all to note for the rehabber if she was getting stronger.
I realized soon after all of this that I had refractured the same hip that I fractured twice last year. Due to the bone disease and muscle disease I always know it is a possibility. This makes me feel weak. Feeling weak takes me to the dark place.
I had felt these feelings before this disease but I could always go for a run, punch a punching bag, or lift weights to ward them off. In place of that, since these diseases, I have taken up photography instead. It brings me joy.
My therapist and psychiatrist ( there is no shame in admitting I get help for PTSD even if someone later uses it against me by calling me crazy, and they have, I get treatment for the trauma) told me to try and rewire my brain and fill it so full of good that it will overpower the bad. So I take a thousand photos a day to create and experience 1000 good moments. Most of the time it works and will outdo the PTSD moments. But not this week. A few little angels were placed before me not even knowing how important they were in grounding me in the now.
This week a few women have taken it upon themselves to treat me poorly. That is putting it lightly. They have gossiped about me. They use the premise of just being “concerned” about my safety when telling me to GO HOME when I am photographing the owl baby. There will be 20 people but I am the only one told to lower my voice, turn my wheelchair light off as it is disruptive (as if all the car lights and streetlights are not worse), and it goes on and on. Wheelchairs should not be in the road…even though we have no sidewalks and people bike and push strollers daily! And I have used this chair for 14 years! All of a sudden I’m put under a microscope on where I park, how I close the gate, etc and etc. I’m yelled at from doorways to “make sure you are being careful” in the MOST NOT actually care about me tone you could imagine. More bullying tactics that catch me off guard and startle me.
It’s not the women that upset me though. It’s ME that upsets me. They are pathetic, cowardly, passive aggressive, narcissistic bitches. I know that. But when they speak down to me or berate or embarrass me, I shut down. I cannot speak. I cannot say what I want to say. I am even nice. It’s sickening.
When I was locked in the garage with the man who was sexually assaulting me with his gun leaning against the door, I was nice.
These women are not that man.
These women are not the men who raped me as a young girl.
But they make me go back to the dark place.
They trigger PTSD.
Here I am with a bone disease, a muscle disease, a fractured hip, just trying to watch out for the baby I saved and somehow I am a target.
I get that. I have been a target before. The wheelchair puts me as a target. Being a little girl left alone with men, with parents who did not watch over me, made me a target. Being abused as a child and groomed to be silent makes me a target.
But I am kind. I am generous. I am loving. I don’t deserve to be a target but I cannot control other people. I also cannot control the PTSD. My nature is to love and that is why I helped with wildlife rehab for 10 years and was a hospice chaplain.
Out of all of the beauty I have experienced this week, the birds that I tell you God put there in front of me because He knew I was in need. Birds I have been looking for for years just appeared in front of me. It has been an incredible week of neighbors reaching out and being kind and understanding, being helpful and accommodating. Yet all it takes is one person to freeze my body and take me back to when I was 11 years old feeling the weight of a 60 year old man on my back and listening to the clock ticking not being able to breathe.
This week has been one of the darkest in a long time. Everyone thought saving that baby bird must have been wonderful. It was excruciating. Holding her as she was crying was excruciating. It reminded me of how alone PTSD makes me. It reminded me of how many times I was never saved. It reminded me that my worth to so many people who have abused me, to include my own parents, is nothing. I did not just have one trauma. I had thousands. And no one did anything. No one’s lives changed. But mine. So holding that baby owl was like holding me. I was holding myself. Giving that baby away was like giving away my own safety. I felt alone again in the dark place of PTSD.
I decided about five years ago to speak my truth and only my truth. I cannot always do it in the moment but I can do it after the fact. That is what I am doing now. I am being transparent and honest. Many nights this week I went to bed hoping that I would never woke up again. My therapist is on speed dial. Then I wake up and start fresh. I look for beauty in nature, in people, in wildlife and I hope that the good will outweigh the bad.
In a dark place
Hoping for light
Knowing when I go to sleep the nightmares will come
Like they always do.
I am fighting battles that only someone who has gone through it could possibly understand. Rape victims and trauma survivors are often very lonely…because of the dark place.
I am not ashamed to speak of what was done to me.
There is a stigma against mental illness, PTSD, anxiety, violence against women, and I will stand up to it all by speaking my truth..when I can. I hope to educate others about what we go through so that maybe you can bring a little bit of light to the dark place.