My eyes popped open and I could feel the sweat start to prickle my skin, my heart was racing. It had happened again, a nightmare of that night, suffocating and not being able to escape. I sat up, dangled my feet off the edge of my bed and took big breaths – just like Sam had taught me as I chanted my mantra, “It’s over, I’m safe, I’m home, there are people here who love me and will protect me”. I say this over and over and over until my heart slows and the flashback images of that night wither into the surrounding darkness.
I grab my water bottle and take a few deliberate swallows of the ice-cold water I keep by my bed. I call out, ‘Zoey’, my cute dog, that has been by my side through each and every one of these terrible moments. She helped me survive in Texas when I was too afraid to go to sleep. I would place my hand on her back and concentrate on her slow and easy breathing until my own matched hers. She is so small, yet so fierce, maybe there is a part of her that feels she has to be now — because I was so broken back then. She responded immediately to my voice and army-crawled over to me, too sleepy to stand up fully. I smile, and a giggle escapes, oh my sweet puppy. She knows exactly what to do, I lay on my left side, lift up the sheet for her to climb under and she lays right near my belly. Now that she has comforted me out of the nightmare, it is time to pet her. She scoots her nose beneath my hand and pushes it up quickly several times until I give in with a smile and scratch her soft fur methodically.
I am calm again, I just have to get my mind to stop spinning over the ‘next thing’. My trip to Austin for Travel Con was going to be more than just a trip for my website development, it is a trip of significant progress for me. It was just a year ago that even seeing, hearing, or having someone mention Texas sent the flashbacks flooding in and the panic tightening all my joints in the fight or flight physiological response. Now I was going back, maybe not to Dallas – the place that it happened, but to Austin – a city I often used for escape. The last time I was there, was two days before I moved back to Utah. I was still in a trauma fog back then and don’t remember much, but my mind is still afraid of being back in that State.
Some people think it is easy to just ‘control your thoughts’, or that you ‘have an agenda for attention’, or…..well I could go on and on — but what most don’t realize is that PTSD is completely and utterly up to your subconscious mind trying to protect you from those terrible things again. What terrible thing? I was raped when I lived in Texas, a week after my trauma a 21-year-old friend from my church was kidnapped and brutally murdered and left in a van in a ditch — 2 weeks before she was to serve a religious mission.
Another week passed and my Dad flew into town for an event, and told me (without knowing what had happened) that he and my Mom didn’t love each other anymore and to not be surprised if something happens between them. I couldn’t work because I would have panic attacks trying to see my male patients. I pretended really well for a long time until I finally broke…..I came back home and found Sam….my therapist at the Rape Recovery Center in Salt Lake City Utah.
I remember her asking me, ‘What does ‘finishing therapy’ look like to you?’ — I won’t tell you exactly what I said, but I did tell her that going back to Texas was a goal to face the past and be at peace with it. It was two months ago, that I was finally able to stop blaming myself …..it took two whole years to get to this point.
I had led a very sheltered life in Utah, people were kind, they cared about what was going on in your life. I never thought that sort of thing would happen to me, but it did, and it is not my fault no matter what the courts ruled. The one thing I KNEW I could always hang my hat on, was the sweet Nurse who examined me in the Emergency Room at 2am — fiercely hugging me while I wept she said, “I’m so sorry sweety, you were raped, no matter what anyone else says — the damage I saw on you is evidence that this was in no way consensual. I need you to believe me when I say that”, she wouldn’t let me go until I told her I believed her and let me cry into her shoulder for several minutes. I was bruised, had scratches on my face, and it was too painful to shower. I had to tell my boss and take two weeks off of work…..I had antibiotics, injections, pregnancy tests, mental battles….I made it through the fog of trauma, the floating through life praying the Lord would take me—but not believing he would hear me. I don’t know that I will ever see her again, but I know that her words are what kept me alive. Now I’m on the other side, I know what that nurse told me was the truth.
I recreated the scenario of that night with my best friend and travel companion Breanna. Funny thing, I was still able to move my arms and legs, relay complex thought processes to her, I was able to tell her no when she asked me questions she knew I wouldn’t like. I hugged her at the end of that experiment, sobbing to her that I finally believed it wasn’t my fault……I knew without a shadow of a doubt I had been drugged. My cloak of shame was removed and the shame turned to anger & now I am reassigning many of those terrible memories a very different emotion.
The next step was to revisit my personal nightmare in Texas with a new set of glasses I had just put on. I was combining my love for travel writing, education, and meeting supportive travel blogger friends in Texas. No one knew how much this meant to me, how many nights before my flight I woke up sweating from the nightmares — I was finally strong enough to sit with my feelings and mourn for all that was lost & was going to Austin to claim my future back. Starting this website was a healthier way to cope than alcohol, overeating, or overspending to numb the pain and loss. It has given me hope again in humanity, reminds me that the world is my oyster and my story is not over yet.
I packed my things mechanically a few days later, I couldn’t chicken out now….I was so close. I packed, unpacked, repacked, unpacked, downsized, had my roommates tell me what to wear. I dove into preparation for my first travel conference, TravelCon 2018 with Nomadic Matt. This gives me something to create, to look forward to and be proud of. Now I want it to grow as I am growing, so I can use it for good & help those who may not be as lucky as I am for being able to have a fresh start.
I got on the plane and couldn’t sleep, so I bought a Scientific America magazine, and started reading about a dry and watered down subject I was totally uninterested in. It worked like a charm, and soon I was drooling onto my shirt with the gentle hum of the propellers outside of my window as my white noise.
I awoke to the intercom blaring and the all too familiar ‘bing-bing-bing’ with the flashing seat-belt sign. We were starting our descent into my memories of Texas. I refused to cry on the plane, so took out my hand sanitizer, put a generous helping on my hands and let the pungent alcohol acost my nostrils. I thought about the bike ride I had signed up for at 330pm. I knew it would be hot and humid, but I was so ready to create some fun memories. (I will do a separate post on this, but for comic relief — I had died my hair the day before, and it has a red tint to it. Ladies, you know what happens when you sweat after dying your hair……yep, it was pouring down my face tinted red like the movie Carrie .)
This is where the magic happens for me. Hearing the speakers, listening to their struggles, their fears, and being in a space of learning filled me and exhausted me. There is still so much to do and things I do not know. One class is all it took for me to have the courage to share this story.
It was a writing class with Thomas Swick, former Editor for the Florida Sun. I sat in this room of 12-13 women who were all there to learn how to share their stories. He asked us to share our ‘human element’ that is so often missing in travel writing. There are so many frills, flowing dresses, perfect scenes created….that we have forgotten what it is like to be expressive.
He painted a picture with words like an artist paints on canvas…..being an artist, I finally was able to see how writing could be an art as well. I thought of my Grandfather before he passed away he looked me straight in the eye and said, “You are so talented and so special to me, promise me that you will take art lessons or do something artistic. That’s the only thing I want you to promise me”. I have often thought I had failed him in this promise, but now I see I am creating a masterful work of art by creating this website and sharing it with the world.
I felt that sinking feeling of truth that comes into your heart when you know you have to do something, even if it is terrifying. The thing that was at the forefront of my mind, my story, my trauma, my healing, my promises…..I knew I needed to write this…..but how much was too much? I asked Mr. Swick, if there were taboo topics, or if he felt disturbing topics needed a trigger warning…..he said no, so if you are disturbed, I’m sorry…..blame him, lol.
I could tell he was a little uncomfortable when I asked him this, he was a former editor (they don’t typically like it when things were vague). So I took the first step of courage, and asked him, “Being fully transparent about this is really difficult for me, because I’m terrified of what will be said about me or to me, but here it goes. I was raped in Texas, and this is my first time being back here since it happened. Is sharing that story inappropriate or sharing too much?”
The room fell silent, and I didn’t dare look around the room. Mr. Swick sat back in his chair, stared at me with his wisened eyes, and gently stated, “I’m so sorry………I think your story could help a lot of people and needs to be told”. I fought back the tears when he said this, I was so afraid of being seen as damaged, or that I was doing this for the attention. This was such a HUGE journey for me to come back to Austin or even Texas and I needed to release the pain, fear, joy, and pride I was feeling in an artistic way.
After he said this, the other women in the room began to speak words of encouragement. They shared their story of mental health challenges, and how important it is to not be ashamed to write about it…..but just be ready for the internet trolls. The feeling in the room was such, that we went over time, and lingered after for a little while, sharing in a shared truth. I was humbled, overwhelmed and astonished at the reactions I received.
I went back to my Airbnb and started to think about what I was going to share, and not share. I started reading Mr. Swick’s book, The Joy’s of Travel; and while reading a thought popped into my head, “Share your truth”. I started to silently cry (well maybe not quite silent, lol) in my room at this thought. So many years of self-doubt and torture, so many sleepless nights and self-destructive behavior due to poor choices OTHER people had made. I don’t want revenge anymore, I just want to feel whole again, feel like I have reclaimed my future and know exactly what a ‘life worth living’ is for myself. All of this came crashing down on me at that moment when I realized…..I needed to share my story, my truth.
I hope in sharing my truth, it allows you to face those demons within yourself. You aren’t alone, it is bloody scary to face those demons, but you can do it. I guarantee that the battle is worse when you try and do it alone…..reach out…..get the support that is there…..you got this.
Don’t give pre-determined labels to people based on your previous experience. What you deem to be cookie cutter definition may not always be what the real truth is. I was a triathlete, and now have health problems from putting on so much weight after my trauma. I was a kind, bubbly, giving person that was known as the anchor for my friends; now I get anxiety from being in a crowd of people. Mother Teresa said, “The hardest battles fought are the ones inside our own mind”, this has never been truer for me than now. I am winning my battle though, I am fighting the good fight, I’m not giving up because Zoey needs me, my sister needs me, and I know that by speaking my truth I will help others as well.
I don’t know that my voice will change the global conversation about this. I don’t know that comments or responses to this will be kind. What I do know, is that I have remained true to my own voice……I have shared my truth……and want you to know that there is hope. If you have nothing else, don’t lose hope.
As Always……Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and See You on the Flip Side.
Janiel Green is a Travel Guru with 22 years of National travel experience in the USA, and 18 years of International Travel experience. She is a highly educated, courageous, driven and dedicated individual to both her professional and personal life. She is the Founder of Culture Trekking LLC, and is devoted to bringing a celebratory passion for humanity into her writing to make meaningful, useful, and heartfelt recommendations for a culturally enriched travel experience. For inquires please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org