Self Portrait by the author
There was a time, a very long time when I would not utter a word about my history as a gun violence survivor. There was a time when I was so traumatized by my history that I disconnected from the experience and kept it locked in a deep, dark place inside of me. Well, I thought it was locked, but like trauma histories tend to do, it leaked, darken, clouded and greatly affected my life. I had wrapped it up in layers and layers of shame, guilt, and fear starting in early childhood and continued the diligent repression of those feelings and memories until it literally exploded out of me in my thirties.
I was a mother of 3 beautiful children, living a busy and productive life. I was happily married and kind of cruising along, thinking I put all that nasty stuff behind me and then BOOM! I was consumed with flashbacks and felt as if I were put into a time warp as the feelings (terror, terror and more terror) came back and hijacked my life. Like a broken leg, set improperly and throwing the whole body out of alignment and off balance, I was only limping along. The panic attacks from my early 20’s shifted into debilitating depression and anxiety that took many years of hard work, professional counseling, and prayer to overcome. Not only had my childhood been robbed at gunpoint but now I was robbed of precious time, in the prime of my life, with my children and husband. I was crippled with PTSD and the after-effects of trauma and was stolen of valuable time, energy and resources. I was fortunate in that I had a husband who understood trauma and supported (and financed) my recovery. The cost in time, money and energy was staggering. If not for my husband, I would have been a lost soul and maybe would have succumbed to alcoholism, drugs or suicide as a way to escape.
My mom had married a man who raged throughout my childhood. He discovered that he very effectively could terrorize us without leaving ‘marks ‘or evidence by getting his guns out during his fits of rage. He had been violent, unbalanced and manipulative from day one but he really hit pay dirt when he got out his guns. He was a person I have no doubt felt small and inferior on the inside but with a weapon in his hand could exaggerate this size, range, scope, and depth of dominance like nothing else. With guns, he could exert the control he relished but lacked otherwise. Guns used in this way came with the added benefit of leaving no bruises, no hospitalizations or physical evidence in its wake unless/until he pulled the trigger. He told us so much. So he could elevate his rage to new levels and feel the power of making us plead and cower, just what every bully prowls after. The guns escalated the ‘mind games and control’ he so loved so by my middle school years, were a common occurrence. I think anyone would agree that guns are like gasoline to a fire in a bully’s hands.
I can say he never killed us. I can also say I have had a gun pointed at me more times than my brain allows me to recall. My mom had a gun pointed at her even more times than that. And he would point the gun at himself, often leaving me and or my siblings to talk him out of killing himself after threatening to kill all of us. His rages often went on for hours, in the middle of the night. The next day, school would pass in a foggy haze of dissociation and exhaustion. If you see gaps in my education or emotional development, guess where they came from? These experiences left me struggling as a teen, an adult, a parent. I worked hard to fill in those gaps, but at 57 yrs old I have to accept that some gaps may never be filled. My social, financial and emotional life has been seriously impacted by a bully with a gun in his hands. My scars are not outward but inward. I have worked HARD to not let my scars show. I am conditioned to NOT let my vulnerabilities show but they do. Please remember that when you see someone struggling and it appears they should just ‘get it together’ or be able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, a safe home (and now school) is not a given for everyone. When you grow up in what amounts to a war zone, you are a reactive, at times barely functioning human being.
That is the gist of my trauma. I could go on and detail the other ongoing abuse which he seemed to delight himself with but in all honesty, I don’t want to talk about it except to say all of it was blanketed with ‘don’t tell or I will kill you…or kill your mom….or kill the family’. I guess in many ways, I am STILL conditioned NOT to tell. And that is precisely why I am writing this and exactly why the mere act typing of these words are causing my insides to quiver and my hands to shake.
Far too many people can not tell their story because they are either too traumatized to talk about their gun violence trauma, or they are not here to tell their story. I am writing this for them. I am writing this because I have a voice, in spite of feeling as if our lawmakers have turned a deaf ear. In spite of the intense shame it brings to even think of sharing this blog post, I am telling you this so you might think of all the instances in our country in which guns violence happens and know that the effects of that trauma are not easily erased or healed. Whether the person was injured, lost a loved on by gun violence or a witness to a violent event, it leaves lasting effects.
The effects of gun violence, even if they do not leave a physical trace, shoots a big, ragged hole in that person’s future sense of well being for a very long time. It shoots a big gaping hole in the future potential of that person. It shoots a grisly hole in the ability for that person to be productive and feel a sense of peace in the world- for a very, very long time!
And that, my friend, effects all of us. We can not let this go on any longer. We lose human potential. We lose productivity. We lose families. We lose money. By not standing up to our Congress and demand they stop being paid off by the NRA, we create chaos. We create dysfunction. We create dependency. We create debt. We create pain. We create traumatized children and adults who will carry a burden that effects their ability to handle family responsibilities, school work, their decision making, their goals, aspirations, their sense of self and safety. We create HUGE medical and rehab expenses. We create people who are not able to work, to support themselves, or their families. We are better than this. And I will no longer feel shame for something that was done to me, when I had no control.
Please protect our children.
Links to read:
I am in the beginning stages of a blog series with oil portraits of survivors or victims of gun violence to bring awareness to this serious, escalating, public health crisis in our country. If you have an interest in sharing your story (in whatever form is comfortable for you) or care to submit a photo as possible artwork please contact me in any of the avenues below.
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