sometimes life sends us is strange directions in its quest to give us opportunities to learn and grow. the most expansive growth opportunities often arise from our most difficult experiences. having recently read a wonderful article about grief and its effect on us and those around us, i am inspired to recount a story of my own. i will preface the story with an observation from the article which both parallels and informs my story.
the author points out the convoluted culture in this country which gives us license to grieve a major loss for only a proscribed period of time, after which we are expected to be whole again, return to work, stop expressing our sadness, and to ‘move on’. in reality, as anyone who has suffered a devastating loss knows, grief can last for years. we do not ‘move on’ after a major loss. we move forward and grief will continue to affect our lives over time.
the story i am about to share tells two tales, one of grieving and its consequences, the other of a series of criminal acts perpetrated by someone with an obviously malicious and sick mind, and its consequences. the two are intertwined. both exhibit the expectations of our culture that one simply move on, get over it, and ‘for your own’ sake (but frankly more for theirs), stop talking about it.
nine years ago i was grieving the death of my dad and the loss of my relationship with my children. i shared with a dear friend the depression i was feeling regarding these losses. i was looking for support and encouragement. instead, she seemed to back away from me as if i should have simply been “over it” by then. beginning around that time, i experienced one of the most terrifying times of my life. ptsd from a past experience served to enhance my fear and, i am sure, to lend an appearance of irrationality to my fear.
living, at that time, in rural pima county, i was stalked and terrorized over a period of several months, ultimately leading to being raped in my own bed.
during this time, footprints appeared regularly in my yard, large cowboy-boot prints. there was loud knocking on my front door at three o’clock in the morning, causing me to bolt upright in bed, panicked, thinking that only the police knock so loudly; something must have happened to one of my children. rocks were thrown at the back of my house. things disappeared from my yard, sometimes showing up again, sometimes not. my gas tank was punctured. eventually, items disappeared from INSIDE my house and showed up later in my car or back where they were originally.
try telling any of that to a deputy sheriff and you risk being thought mentally unstable, particularly if the deputy has a bent toward not believing women. stalkers are clever sadists. try telling your friends what you are experiencing and you risk having them disappear from your life. i still grieve the loss of long-time friends whom I love.
had my closest friends been willing to see me through this difficult time in my life, and the process of recovery, they would have stuck around long enough to learn that i was one of at least three women who suffered similar experiences within the same timeframe, in the same geographical area, with the same deputy declaring the cases to be “unfounded”.
had my friends lent the support i so craved, they may have come to understand that moving forward from grief and from fear is a process, sometimes a messy process, that their friend (the person they want you to be) will shine through again, albeit with the new growth and knowledge that often come from adversity (and with – as with anyone who has suffered loss knows – lingering moments of sadness)
i learned that we humans are a fearful bunch and that our fear too often colors our reactions to the experiences of even our dearest friends and family, and can actually cause us to abandon them in their greatest time of need.
i learned that the mental health system in pima county is, as a whole (excepting certain individual personnel), severely flawed with outdated procedures and a less-than-helpful (one might even say harmful) evaluation process which refuses to hear any input from, and totally discounts the person being evaluated. despite the awful experience, i am grateful to have learned this, as i still occasionally have an opportunity to counsel a woman who is suffering or recovering from abuse and/or sexual assault. sadly, i now feel compelled to advise against seeking help from county resources.
if i were a less educated, less enlightened person, i might have learned to keep major emotions, such as fear or grief, “safely” stuffed away lest i be judged and abandoned by those i love most. instead i have recommitted to speaking my truth in the hope that i might open a door to others to feel safe to do the same. some people may abandon me for doing so. and that will probably hurt. the ones who do not may find themselves afforded an opportunity to learn something beneficial about the nature of love and support.
i will be forever grateful to my father (and a woman named martha) for setting me – truly safely – on a path of learning which has given me the tools to understand, empathize , share openly with others in need and to lend healing and support in whatever way i am able.
i find that i must also thank the universe for offering me opportunities to learn and grow, even, and perhaps especially, the most horrific.