Life AT. It’s almost like your own rebirth and a new dawn has arrived. Sometimes that dawn is a bit cloudy and murky. I think that was March for me.
When my husband and I were held up at gunpoint at a parking garage near Fourways Mall in broad daylight, that broke me. I didn’t show it and I didn’t melt down then, but it’s finally caught up to me now. While they did offer free PTSD-oriented therapy, it was held someplace closer to where the incident happened and the idea of having to be near Fourways was overwhelming still. The actual fear didn’t sink in until later.
We knew the entire incident was going to be shoved under a rug as we watched the collection of evidence and potential DNA by the first responders. You see, we were held up just after parking in said parking garage, and I happened to be recording up until Roland switched off his ignition. It was carefully planned. There was a Merc that rounded the corner just as we pulled up to our parking spot. When we pulled in, you could see the parking garage attendant (there for “security” purposes on behalf of the mall) look around to scan the area. Right after I switched off the camera, my door was suddenly pulled open and my husband and I had guns pointed at us.
I couldn’t even understand what they were saying, but I eventually figured out what was going on. We were actively in an armed robbery that was planned. We just happened to be the unfortunate souls that chose to pull in at the right time. Within seconds, they took my wallet (which had the funds for our entire utility bill in it, since that was going to be one of our stops that day) and my husband’s watch. I realized that I had heard him tell the robber that he doesn’t own a phone. The one on my side of the car immediately took mine.
They then took his keys and closed the door, then tossing the keys (I guess so we couldn’t just grab them and follow them) and sped off. They crashed into a cement truck, got hooked onto the truck, and fled after shooting wildly when security tried to go after them.
*I know I’ve told this part of the story before in other posts- trying to summarize before I make my point.
Anyway, fast forward to those first responders. We watched them bungle the evidence collection, and then the woman that was in charge showed up and dismantled a gun that was found in the car with her bare hands. She contaminated whatever DNA evidence that was even possible to find. On every. Single. Piece. And we were told that two of the men were apprehended after they ran to a gas station to steal another car, which they also crashed.
I didn’t even bat an eye when I read that the police claimed the shootout was a hoax, thus squashing any attention to this story and this bogus case. It was pretty clear that it was set up and someone was paid to be quiet. I tried to file complaints, but the only thing we got was a case number (which then changed), insurance payout for the watch (which was..I think the 3rd to be stolen from my husband at gunpoint) and a text message offering counseling in an area that was both triggering and too far away for me to consider going to. My husband declined for himself and said he was going to see if his church offered something. He never did.
So….fast forward to May, we have a baby to raise, right on the heels of one cat losing a leg after a dog attack and choosing to euthanize another that had an incurable illness. Both of our birthdays were smushed in-between (since they’re 4 days apart) and I had a full-time remote job that was keeping me too busy to have much downtime and never paying me for the horrendous amount of overtime I gave them at my regular pay rate…..well…lesson learned there. Anyway…..I didn’t take time to sit down and think about how that one day left me on the cusp of a Life AT moment. Part of me did die that day, even though a bullet never struck me. I let the trauma become too comfortable in my day-to-day.
Then, I lost my job after the owner decided to sell the business. I found out by accident the same day as the robbery and just worked as much as they demanded so I could try to salvage my situation. I didn’t know then that there would be a baby involved soon, but then when I found out, I was luckily asked to stay on during the transitional period. That lasted until the last week of July. I basically just worked alone, as everyone else had resigned or moved onto other things. I was the captain with the sinking ship until the very end.
But when that transpired, I decided to try flying solo for a while, and raise the baby. Professionally, it didn’t go as planned. I’m still trying to figure that part out because even now I need to keep my ear to the ground for my next move. It’s hard to figure out what that is because the reputable places are hard to find. What I’m doing now professionally makes me happy on a level that’s deeper than just being employed. It’s hard to find a workplace that just fits, but this one was presented as a temporary role. I love it no less because the work environment and population….it’s a treat and a blessing at the same time.
The part of the journey where I wasn’t working at all really set me back emotionally and mentally. I was also still a bit terrified of the idea of raising a child, even though she’s been clearly happy. It was around that time that I realized that the indecision of counseling was rearing its ugly head because I felt like I was drowning for a bit. I’m still “kind of” there, but I recognized that this was still part of the upswing. Things will come together for a little bit and I’ll have time to breathe.
But what I also saw was that I was not DOING something about my struggle at the time, and I had no money to get around or seek out professional care. So I had to rely on myself to pull it together and today I realized I’m so much further along in this process. I’m pretty proud. It doesn’t even matter if anyone notices because I learned to rally behind myself and not apologize for how long it may take me. I have not ended up where I know I can be but I know I am still walking there. It’ll happen when it’s time.
I felt guilty that I started to let the experience of trauma envelop me with this blanket of fear. Fear was something foreign to me, even if it would have been wiser to hold onto a bit of it. I was the person who flew halfway across the world to meet the man she cared about most in person….solo. I took a chance on love, my career, and my life. Fear was not something that drove me then. I knew that it would be an adjustment, and I knew that it wasn’t the safest place. People were numb to stories of corruption and racism. A lot of toxic traits were now normalized, in a way. But I fell in love with a man, and with life. And before March 17th, 2018, I had no fear in my heart for South Africa.
But then we came home broken. My husband still fears to buy another watch, as they’ve proven to be bad luck for him. The one he lost wasn’t even fancy; it was a nice-looking cheap buy off Amazon. It almost cost him his life. And I feared my general safety was at risk, because if the police didn’t care about my life then, why would they in any other circumstance?
I started pricing upgrades to our home security. I don’t spend time in certain spaces unless I know there’s a panic button within reach. I’m afraid to even go anywhere by myself but have no choice because I have the baby and she needs to have her outside time too. And now, I have to make myself stand outside at night and just listen. I’ve been forced to rebuild my trust with my own backyard. I had to learn to let my guard down again after life hurt me.
Every evening or early morning, I find a spot where I feel comfortable and secure. It’s the smallest spot ever, but I’m safe there. I can reach a panic button easily if I need to, but primarily I could get fresh air and remind myself that I can’t let life shroud me in anxiety. I lock myself into this little space and throw on my Bluetooth headphones. I crank up the volume and play my favorite playlist of tunes. And I dance without a care in the world.
Sometimes I just stand there and listen to the subtle noises you hear in the middle of the night in a concentrated effort to find peace with the world again. But then a random car (often a patrol car) would start rounding the block and I would immediately feel the tension burst onto the scene again. But each time it happens, I learn to take a breath and watch the lights progress down the street before I let it cripple me.
At that moment I usually feel my most vulnerable. I would admit to myself that I allowed a momentary weakness. I would move on and start plotting. I did my best planning in these quiet hours and would come back in, motivated to tackle something that won’t overwhelm me.
This journey, thus far, has intensely tested my patience in myself, my marriage, my professional life. But as I look back on how far I’ve come in over 10 months, I can appreciate the progress. I couldn’t as I was taking baby steps, but I’m getting closer to where I need to be. I think that suddenly becoming responsible for the baby was a catalyst for the change that I needed to make within myself. I shed relationships that weren’t bringing me joy and focused more on the good in life. I parted ways with my phone more and allowed myself more time to do things purely for me (like writing, reading, taking an extra long bath, meditating). I started an internal and spiritual cleanse.
I eventually came to realize that 90% of my obstacles in life are simply mental and I’m still trying to figure out to make that leap from holding myself back to becoming a winner. I have a much better awareness of this now, and it’s a battle I face on a daily basis. I take more time to just focus on taking those steps forward instead of letting my emotions keep me standing still. I find that it helps give me the stamina mentally and physically to keep that progress going, and it’s improved my relationship with my husband noticeably. I also feel freer to stop beating around the bush and demand more out of my life. I know that, with this improved mindset, I will eventually become unstoppable.
The only expectation I set for myself at this stage of my growth is to simply make forward momentum. It doesn’t have to be grand or extreme, but I should feel triumphant just the same. Anytime I can see or feel that I’ve made a bit of progress, I need to celebrate that shit. I need to learn to motivate myself better and stop letting doubt or fear keep me from the next finish line. Eventually, that forward momentum will start to build steam and I will find that level of joy that I know my life is capable of producing. I just needed to get to that level where I could effectively say I’ve gotten a grip on my demons and reclaimed my headspace going forward.
Life AT is a rough process but I can already confidently say that I’m a much better person now than I was a year ago. Every day I’m getting stronger and pushing harder. I can be happy knowing that I will get where I need to be when I’m good and ready for it.
Eventually, I’ll dive deeper into the branches of this journey along the way. I’m proud of myself as of this moment. The worst is over, and I have so much more to look forward to.
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