What I learned as a survivor of a crime
Like a lot of us, I was just going about my regular life. Before the trauma, I thought I was doing a pretty good job. I would have told you at the time that I was reasonably aware of what I wanted out of life, how to get there, what my particular strengths or weaknesses were, and my mental health status, inasmuch as I’d ever given that a thought.
Then my path crossed the path of individuals bent on doing harm. And harm was, indeed, done. To many people, in many different forms, including the ultimate harm – people died. Quite by chance, as so many things truly are, the forces that put me near the harm also put me several feet away from the full force of it. So, I walked away under my own power, without a scratch on the outside of my body. And, though I didn’t know it at the time, with unseen scratches on the inside. A long struggle with post-traumatic stress in my future.
In the days, weeks, months, and eventually years that passed since the initial trauma, I’ve learned a lot more about living that I ever would have imagined possible. I even surprised myself a few months later when I described what happened to me as a gift. Not a gift willingly chosen, mind you. And not one anyone else should to have to receive. But it is something that taught me, is still teaching me, important lessons about being a human being on this planet in this time.
We can’t control what happens to us
We can control how we react, however. That may be one of the standard lessons people take away when something horrible happens. In my life, I feel this to be true. And though it felt for a very long time that I wasn’t in control of my reaction, I eventually found the right tools to manage my reactions. My way of coping: meditation and practicing mindfulness and yoga, as ways to help deal with the trauma and the regular frustrations that life throws at us.
Life is short
This is a lesson hard to appreciate when we are younger; at least it was for me when my whole life stretched out in front of me. Anything was possible. Confronting death, standing stock still in fear as every fiber in my body is responding to the mortal danger that is too, too near, forced me eventually to confront that I will not be here forever. That life is fragile. That I will die. This knowledge makes me grateful for every day I do have. It helps me remember not to dwell too long on the small annoyances, and to take care of the important things in my life.
Speaking of important things, the trauma helped me learn what I do and don’t want and need in a friend. As a result of dealing with post-traumatic stress, I let go of some friendships that were not serving me. It became clear that I needed was friends who could support me, who would protect me when I was fragile. That the friends who judged my reaction, those who wouldn’t or couldn’t listen when I asked for help, whose toxicity cast a gray cloud around our relationship, were not the kinds of friends to have near me. And those friends who stood by me in those darkest of days, who sat with me while I cried, who listened again and again as I worked through my feelings and fears? Today I feel closer to them than ever.
I wish it was as easy as one and done. Trauma. Learn lesson. Live perfect life. Haha. I keep relearning these lessons every day. I work on my friendships. Recognize the traits in potential new friends that may not serve me and make decisions accordingly. Appreciate the simple things. Remind myself to be grateful and say thanks – both out loud and to myself – for kindnesses. And I’ve learned so much about how and why I respond to things, so I can be mindful in my responses when possible.
In my regular life I was in fact doing a pretty good job. Post-trauma, it’s all about refining that life. Still doing a pretty good job. Spending more time thinking about life and how to live it. And although I sometimes wish I knew this stuff before, I know it now. And that’s what matters.