In my mid-20s, I began dating a man who it turned out had been stalking me already. He was disturbed, abusive and manipulative. It took me six months and a team of family, friends and law enforcement to get separation from him. Then it took half my lifetime to let go of my fear.
As I began to wake up on the morning of my 50th birthday, my dog Rosie jumped up from her bed on the floor to cuddle beside me. Rubbing her ears, eyes and belly help both of us start the day in a warm, peaceful mood. After a few minutes, I rolled out of bed and wandered to the bathroom in the dark and got dressed. Then Rosie and I headed downstairs to spend a few more minutes cuddling on the couch—in the dark. This was our normal routine.
Again I started thinking about it being my 50th birthday. I had begun anticipating it a few months back. Now that the big day was here, it felt like any other. Then a cold draft blew over us, which I assumed was from the heater going through its normal routine. But for an odd second I wondered if the interior door to the garage was open a bit and if that was where the draft came from. Nah, not likely. My husband locks that door every night before going to bed. Unless someone had opened it since then? That’s when I remembered the death threats.
It had been exactly half of my lifetime ago when my brother-in-law called me on my 25th birthday. To this day, his greeting is still the most memorable: “Happy birthday! I’m glad you’re still alive!” This was in response to my physically- and mentally-abusive ex-boyfriend/stalker calling in three death threats the day before. The last call was to my mom–can you imagine! Weird how such a memory is a regular part of my birthday.
I’ve come to expect that recollection to pop up each year, so it is no longer destructive. But even 25 years after the stalking was over, I was still getting triggered once in a while. I was doing my best to keep the trauma center in my brain well-guarded against the standard, predictable stuff. Unfortunately, an occasional something out of the ordinary would slip past my defenses and set off my internal alarm system.
Take for instance New Year’s Eve 2016–three years prior to my 50th birthday. A half hour before midnight, something prompted me to check my email. Scrolling through more than a day’s worth of unread messages, I saw the former stalker had sent a Facebook friend request to me the night before. After all those years with no contact—what the heck was he thinking?
Quickly I logged into Facebook, but he had already retracted the request. Regardless, it took nine days and a lot of rationalizing with my sister and my best friend for me to calm down. One thing that helped me move on was that I saw on his Facebook profile where he was living. I didn’t lock in my brain any details about the region, only that the town was two hours away.
Too close for comfort
Following that, I had no big trigger incidents for a while. But then three weeks before my 50th birthday, I had a rare night of bad dreams about him. My stirring woke my husband a few times. Likewise, he tried to wake me to stop the cycle, but the bad dreams kept spiraling. So much so that they stuck with me into the next day. Eventually I decided to remind myself how far away from me he was living.
I Googled the name of his town—seeking reassurance—but instead my jaw dropped in disbelief. On the map, about two and a half miles from his town center, I saw the name of the hospital where I had been treated just one month prior. My husband, youngest son and I were away for my son’s travel hockey tournament when I had an unexpected health issue. I had been practically on his doorstep! Why do our lives continue to orbit each other this way?
I kept repeating this thought in my head. Here’s what I decided to settle on. Something happened during that traumatic experience in my mid-twenties that was so absolutely necessary in order for me to become the person who I am today, that I must continue to be reminded of it. And for that, at least, I’m grateful.
My son’s hockey team returned to the same tournament this past year. Knowing that there was even the slightest possibility that I could cross paths with him was unsettling. But I didn’t change anything I would have done if I had not known he could be there.
Closing the door
Finally, a few months ago and after all these years of soul searching, I found closure. At last I was able to put into perspective that he had not done anything to harm me for more than 25 years. Nothing had come out of the Facebook incident, and I was in his town twice since then without running in to him. My fear is finally gone.
Looking all the way back to when it first happened, I foolishly tried to handle him myself for a while. Then once I was willing to admit I was in over my head, I got my family, friends and the police involved. I let the justice system do its job, and he received fair punishment. Afterward, I sought professional counseling a few times over the years when I was feeling more challenged than usual to cope.
I feel it’s important to emphasize here that I brought the stalking situation to a close and persevered to heal myself using all the resources available to me. I did not try to get through this journey on my own, and recovering was a lot of work.
I do feel bad about the pain and fear that my family and friends had to experience because of this. However, I don’t feel bad about any of the incidents when I became triggered. I’m not embarrassed for overreacting. I have no regrets about telling people my feelings during those times. Those were all experiences I had to get through in order to heal. And the length of time it took for me was the exact right time for my healing.
Also, all the work that my family and friends put into helping me was also helping them on their journeys. Helping others to overcome pain and fear allows each one of us the chance to learn more about ourselves and grow to be more loving.
As for him, I’ve forgiven him. I don’t know what led him to behave that way, but it must have been something really bad that he had no control over. And I don’t know if he ever behaved that way toward anyone else. I do hope that he has been able to find peace and meaningful love in his life. I also hope he has somehow found opportunities to support others in a way that makes up for his damaging behavior.
It is unavoidable that you will experience trouble, pain, fear and perhaps even trauma in your life. What’s important is that as you heal, you appreciate the learning that you find in your experiences. Be grateful that through it you can grow to become a more loving person. Accept that some healing and learning will happen faster than others. Be patient and kind to yourself as you figure it all out. Then share your lessons with others, to help them in their journeys too.
Thank you for spending these moments with me, thinking about life. If you like what you’ve read, I’d love for you to share it. Spread some seeds…
2 replies on “Turning fear into gratitude”
[…] I’m mentioning this one because it’s a scenario I think more people can relate to than just moody teens. Anyone at any age, level of education or income, or any lifestyle can find themselves in a predicament where they don’t want to speak up, ask for help, and thereby expose someone else’s issues. […]
[…] was already carrying a bunch of mental baggage, to say the least. Then along came the stalker. He was convicted and my dad died within eight months of each […]