Updated: Jan 2
Often I am met with the same comment by various people who will stare at me as though looking at a unicorn, with wide-eyed or teary-eyed empathy and the comment that follows the stare will be stated in such a resolute way that I just nod awkwardly in agreement: “You’re such a strong woman”. I often do reflective thinking in that moment, wondering what do they see? Obviously not the many nights I lost sleep still waiting up for my son to come home even though his body rested six feet under; or being awakened like clock work night after night with the same image of his passing without his mother there to hold him until he took his last breath. Nor did they hear the blood curling screams that I hurled out into the atmosphere like a person of total abandonment whose child’s life was utterly ripped away leaving me feeling vulnerable and disgusted that I failed the one duty I was assigned to him as a mother and that was to simply keep he and my daughter safe; and raise them up to transition safely into adulthood with the hope of a bright future. These well meaning people have not seen the days in which words flee my vocabulary and I utter babbles that are disturbing to hear and watch. Here is what they have witnessed; the presentable me that I allow into the public:
Not bad huh? This appears to be the stable side of me that for fifteen months under went therapy from four specialists, including grief therapy, and was subjected to so many physical tests, stress tests, surgeries and evaluations because my heart physically changed shape and developed a tear from the trauma of losing everything! First it was the death of a twenty-two marriage in which I found that for the entire twenty-two years I shared my husband with other people; that knowledge ripped our family apart like crepe paper shredded to confetti. The murder of my son and the effect it had on my daughter caused my body to respond in fight or flight mode, commonly known as PTSD. My blood pressure numbers were through the roof. The hole in my heart caused severe weakness which manifested when I would try to get out of the tub, brush my teeth, have coherent thoughts, brush my hair, eat or walk from one room to the next. Those simple things became such a chore to do. However, I am a black woman whose mother mastered the art of teaching her daughters, not to ever allow what’s happening behind closed doors to show up when you walk outside. I struggled in silence. I became afraid to drive because sometimes I could not find my way to very familiar destinations. Trauma is like a bomb that detonates in the mind.
Trauma is like a bomb that detonates in the mind.
The body will respond. In my case, I had large tumors that grew in my back (5x5) & (6x6) in diameter. They started off as small lipomas (or fatty tumors), due to trauma they became painful and begin to grow with the increasing stress of going through a divorce, moving away from the home our family shared together, watching my ex-spouse marry the woman who lied secretly in our marriage within a month post our divorce; and eight months later burying a child whose life insurance was dropped because he and his father shared the same name, which left me with almost $200,000 in medical expenses, burial expenses and due to the abandonment of his father, I had to handle all of it alone. I became homeless for a while, in limbo while trying to save my daughter. That additional pressure caused me to lose my teeth, bleed profusely which caused me to have surgery, my joints began to age and my internal organs were under close observation by several doctors who prescribed enough medication to put a horse to sleep. I had to be tested for blood clots, TIA, cardiovascular risks, psychiatric evaluations, more medication to bring me down from the PTSD that kept me in fight or flight mode. Little by little from major organs to the muscular and skeletal structures, my body began to reveal the amount of pressure it had endured in the span of 8 months. I had lost my emotional resilience, I needed help.
I had lost my emotional resilience, I needed help.
Recognizing the need for help is the first safety net, following through to get the help is the second safety net and then staying the course of continued therapy is the third safety net one can provide one’s self to help restore all the things that become broken post trauma. It takes time. The hole in my heart is not metaphorical. I felt it when it tore, it seemed as though my heart organ had liquified like a wiggly gelatin. It was bizarre and I had to lie down, due to the extreme weakness it produced. I didn’t know at the time what was happening to me, but it is a reoccurrence for which I can not prepare for. It leaves me where I can’t call out for help or pick up a phone, I have to lie there and wait for the blood flow to regulate and often it leaves me wiped out for moments, hours or days. For months it was misdiagnosed as Panic Attacks. Not so, if is called PFO, commonly known as broken heart syndrome.
I had to fight to live and give myself permission to breath and wake up the next morning. I had to relinquish the guilt of my only son’s passing not to take me away from the one child I have left who is still facing her own trauma and way of healing. I had to be okay “to not be okay“. It is a recognition that something is broken and it requires a team of professionals to fix. So when people cock their heads to the side and comment so matter of factly that I am a strong woman, I nod because I know that I am a woman under construction, the foundation of my construction is founded by the prayers of many; the will to live to see my daughter have grandchildren and the reality that my son’s persistence in making me promise him I will be great anchors my resolve.
my son’s persistence in making me promise him I will be great anchors my resolve.
Emotional Resilience starts with a mind to be okay with not being okay. It is scary and requires intentional engagement to continue to open one’s eyes in the morning and believe that they will make it through another day. It involves discovery and facing one‘s fears and learning how to build an emotional fortitude that accepts the effects of trauma and then deal with it head on. It still takes me a while to process simple instructions, sometimes to form a thought and I have displaced emotions at times, my agility is different and I have physical weakness I have to overcome still. But I am willing and I have given myself the permission needed to proceed ahead (with caution yes), but proceed nevertheless. I am not the same Carmen I was before, I am still acquainting myself with the new Carmen and sometimes it is difficult to admit the shortcomings that seem to linger. I have had to learn how to put away the anger because it releases toxins in the body that is already triggered by trauma. I had to overcome fear. Murder is scary and uncertain and unexpected when not warranted. It is evil and invasive and it is a joy killer and the sheer fear is disabling. It grips and it seems cruel and fierce and it leaves one feeling so vulnerable rehearsing the playback over and over which is enough to drive one into a state of utter helplessness. On April 13th, murder visited my family. This isn’t how it was supposed to be, wait a minute!!! My mind is now grappling trying to put the pieces together. The system seems ambiguous on the steps leading to justice and now I have to relive the events through a trial. If I don’t try to find resilience in this world wind of emotion, I wonder what my outcome will be? This is a job for God, it is massive and I am at the will of my own will and His for me. I choose resilience. It’s my bounce back, my stabilizer, my path, my choice, and I hope that if you can relate to trauma in your own life you will chose the same.
I choose resilience. It’s my bounce back, my stabilizer, my path, my choice, and I hope that if you can relate to trauma in your own life you will chose the same
Carmen A. Gray, Author
LLC Rise Above the Violence, Inc.