Converging Stolen Lives

by Stephanie
(Indiana, USA)

There was a time and space I didn’t think about you, or your abuse. Where when I looked back at my life, I only saw normal things, a normal childhood. I later realized that is not what I lived, it’s where I needed to live to go on to be a normal person. I often think in terms of normal, but really I know there is no such thing.

I think one of the reasons I was able to be a very successful firefighter/cadaver dog handler is because I had years of experience on how to endure much of life's injustices which allowed me the ability to search for the dead, the murdered people we were tasked to find. Because I was able to separate how I really felt and what I needed to feel, to do or to survive. I often think it’s because you stole my soul when I so very young. That wouldn’t really be true, but it appeared that way.

When we were tasked to search the towers, for the stolen lives, it was very important to find people alive, but we didn’t, no one did. That was not to be the mission as time went on. So we had to refocus our job, minds and hearts that we would be looking for the stolen lives to return them to their families. We worked day in and day out, there were so many, no names, we knew no names, which made it a job, and easier to stay focused and unemotional. Ten days, twelve-hour shifts of working, with no hope, and no success. It began to take it’s toll on all of us. We were all in the same boat, nothing left inside to draw from, nothing there to draw from the person next to us. We all say we know what we are getting into when we do this, but no one could have known or been prepared for 9/11, no one.

I am more than sure I was not the only one who carried a lot of emotional trauma from childhood, that would shape how we would handle what we did while we were there, how we dealt with the horrific task we had undertaken once we got home. Or would our difficulties wait until we returned? Would our armor start to show cracks and weakness? Would we be able to maintain until we returned home? Most of us did and most of us struggled for a good while when we got home. Some of us were foolish enough to think we could handle it on our own.

For me, I really don't know why I thought I could. I had not completely handled and or healed from my childhood trauma, why did I think I could add more, and place the past on hold? Probably not truly a thought that I could, but obviously subconsciously I thought so.

When I got home, and settled in, superficially I shared my experiences, enough to let others think I was ok, but not enough to fix, and or deal with what happened or even remotely able to begin the healing process.

Like others, I had difficulty sleeping, staying focused, eating, tried to self medicate to hide the effects of what we had been thru. I think in my weakened emotional state it made me very vulnerable to dreams, flashbacks, and thoughts of survivors guilt. Did we do enough? Did we miss anyone? Did it take too long to find them? Were they alive, but it took us so long to find them, that when we did they were gone? They would became one of the stolen lives.

My most vulnerable times have always been at night, when I was in less control, when my sexual abuse trauma happened.... Even when we worked day and night at the towers, it was so Smokey, so dusty, and dark, it felt like it was always night. I think that is why for me sleep was always difficult. I was afraid to sleep, afraid I would be forced to deal with things, even if I wasn’t ready. If I were asleep I would not be able to stop the memories, the train of dreams, nightmares, and the body memories. They would have control. When they started, how long they would last and what they would involve.

I would not be able to control any of it... and one of my coping skills was having control. Control was not something I was accustomed to having, so once I learned to use it, I didn’t want to let go. Sleeping would have taken that from me.

When my flashbacks became a mix of childhood and 9/11, I knew I was no longer in control. Drinking, self medicating and sex was not really relieving any of the pain and memories. The sex was with a partner, so I was not just seeking sex anywhere. It wasn’t even about sex, it just needed to be a safe person, rather then sexual, it was a safe emotional place to go and be. I had learned it was a safe place, with someone I had grown to trust with my weaknesses. Who quickly had to admit as much as she wanted to be the one to help, it was beyond what she could fix.

Instead, what was happening was she was watching me struggle, and drown in my trauma. It finally took her saying, “I can’t do this, I can’t be the one who watches you destroy yourself.” I had to make a decision; struggle alone or get help with her as my support system. I once again joined my therapist, in our continued journey of healing.

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