Years ago, while writing in my bedroom one night, I was caught off guard by a rap on my window one night.
“Who is that?” I asked, almost laughing. I thought perhaps a friend was outside playing, attempting to scare me. The rap quickly became a pounding, and somehow the sound took on emotion — no longer a benign knocking, the now angry force menacingly continued. I heard myself screaming, there was the shattering of glass, and then dead silence.
A policeman arrived within minutes of my 911 call, letting me know that it looked like the work of mischievous teenagers.
“I don’t think they were trying to break in, just scare you,” he reported. They had obviously run away when the outer pane of the window shattered. With that knowledge, I relaxed slightly.
But later I could not sleep. When my sister-in-law offered to sleep over, I heartily took her up on it. I could hear the rain drops softly hitting the grass. Each flicker of light on the ceiling brought me to full wakefulness, and I cringed when I recalled the overpowering horror and dread that filled me when I did not know if my very life was in danger.
It was the emotion — not the facts, that my soul remembered. Though my mind grasped that what had happened was born of stupidity and youthful ignorance, I still reverberated with the anxiety of vulnerability. For the next several weeks, I struggled with fears abnormal for my usually bold sensibilities. I dreaded the dark, being alone, even sleeping. I felt threatened, even when no one was near me.
I longed for a way to crawl into some sort of protective womb and remain there until life was safe again. I reasoned with myself, journaled, and prayed. I realized that I would have to fight the fear, as my aunt had reminded me, or it would take over. I rearranged my room, gave myself certain goals, and proceeded slowly and deliberately. Through the help of many supportive people, I was able to resist the temptation to shrink back from life, and eventually recovered fully.
And that was what was required to overcome a rather simple trauma. Many individuals suffering from anxiety disorders, irrational fears, and the like, have had to overcome much more than a few seconds of fear. Rape, violent death, the loss of home, children and the like can cause individuals to pull so far into their symbolic wombs that they never want to re-engage with the outside world again.
One woman told me that soon after her best friend died in an automobile accident, she found it difficult to drive. Now, years later, her friends and family often take her places. She suffers from anxiety attacks. She rarely socializes outside her home, and is even ambivalent about romantic interests.
Fear and trauma are not only stored in our minds, they are literally lodged in our bodies. There are stories of individuals having new memories after having heart transplants — often these memories corroborate with the life of the donor. Our bodies react to cues that may take our minds much longer to sort through.
The way out of the prison of fear is a careful plodding. One must be willing to ask for help, take baby steps for change, and feed one’s mind with reassurance it’s possible to move to new emotional places. It’s often helpful to journal, to nurture one’s spirit through pleasant music, art, and anything beautiful and uplifting. Change in one’s surroundings can help lift the atmosphere. Because fear can grow if left unchecked, pressing forward is an absolute key to recovery. Never give up hope that things can change. Every day is new and can be brighter.