There was a pounding at the door. “Can I come in? What is wrong? Ruth, are you okay?” All he could hear was the shower running and muffled sobs. He began to worry when she did not respond and quickly came into the bathroom where he found her balled up in the corner, dripping wet and naked on the cold shower floor, who knows how long the water had lost its’ heat. She looked too thin, her eyes puffed and red from crying. He quickly turned the water off, reached for a towel and gently helped her to her feet. Her body fully exhausted, limp, almost lifeless from experiencing yet another attack of post traumatic stress. What was the trigger this time, he wondered. Through her sobs, she faintly asked him to throw the bottle of shower gel into the garbage can, not wanting to smell it ever again. “Every time I smell it,” she said, “I am flooded with the worst memories. I just want to die! I can’t take this anymore.”
Earlier that night, Ruth had tucked her three little ones into bed with stories, songs and prayers. She had then wandered around the house from room to room, everything was safe, the doors locked, blinds drawn, opening and closing the fridge, so hungry but unable to eat from the dread of anxiety. Turning on the hot water jug for a cup of tea, then heading to her room. She climbed onto her bed, knees drawn in close to her chest, rocking back and forth, trying to comfort herself from the flood of memories that came every night when the house was quiet. Talking in a low voice to herself, repeating kind words to herself in hopes of comforting the damage that had been done. Squeezing her eyes shut trying desperately to drown the vivid images from her mind.
Ruth had completely forgotten the hot water that was now ready to be made into a cup of tea to calm her nerves. It took all the effort she had to care for the three little ones every single day, leaving no energy to care for herself. She stared at the wall in front of her as it began to transform into clips and flashes from episodes of her previous 10 years of marriage. Shaking her head to clear it, to no avail, sitting for what felt like an eternity. She had finally called her boyfriend, Fred, to see if he could please come over. Her anxiety had been triggered again, it was late, dark, Fred had not called, she had been waiting for too long. But, her reality was often confused with her past life, a life filled with trauma, abuse, and domestic violence. They say time heals, but she relived her past every single day although it had been over two years since her escape back to America.
As she spoke to him on the phone, he was confused by the fear that came from her voice. “It’s going to be okay,” he said, “take a hot shower, and I’ll be over as soon as I can.” “It’s not going to be okay, ever!” came the quick reply. “I can’t live like this any more, my head hurts every single day. My mind is full of memories that are killing me. I can’t eat, I can’t sleep, I am scared all of the time. What if the anxiety never goes away? I just feel like I need to throw up. There is no safe place, even when I sleep I am haunted by nightmares, reliving the past, and dreaming up threatening events in my mind of being chased, and hurt, my children kidnapped and I can’t find them anywhere in my dreams. Or, I can see them, but I can’t get to them to protect them from him.” “Take a hot shower,” he lovingly repeated, “and I will come over soon. We can talk about it then. I’ll drive over and hold you soon Ruth.”
Fred now gently drying her off, rubbing her skin to warm her, helping her into her robe, then tucking her into bed. He rested next to her, stroking her hair, whispering softly in her ear, holding her hand, and waiting for her to fall asleep. But, sleep did not come, not yet. She began to describe what was haunting her. The trigger from the smell of the shower gel, reminding her of one of many escapes, this time with her baby boy, just three months old. The home she had found refuge in had the same fragrant shower gel…….and with it a vivid repeat and rush of frightening memories.
Every drip of water flooding her again with painful memories from a life she had endured for so long and freezing her in fear. The shower water that had turned so cold, playing back the time she was lying in the rain at the feet of the man who had so often tried to destroy her. The cold, isolation of the shower reminding her of the time she fled for her life in the early hours of the morning, crouched on the porch of a total stranger who had not let her in for safety, but had called the police to pick her up off of her front porch. The four walls of the shower causing her to relive the time she had been pregnant and trapped in the four walls of an elevator for nearly an hour with the man who over and over forced her to overcome her claustrophobia. The many times she had locked herself in the bathroom to take a shower in the hope of finding solace, an ounce of peace, and to just cry and cry and cry wishing the pain away.
Her mind haunted, battered, flooded with sorrow, with memories that were a constant companion of doubt, condemning shame, of fear, of worry, of bitterness, darkness and the inability to fully trust again. Fred longed to help her heal, to set her free from the grip of darkness, but how? He rested next to her for over an hour, soothing her with his presence, praying for comfort from the pain. She had fallen asleep at last, he then placed a soft kiss on her cheek. Getting up, he headed to the bedroom door, letting himself back out to drive back home for the night. Worried, but hopeful that she would be able to sleep, to rest her mind for the few hours left till morning. He had placed her phone on her bedside table in case she were to wake up frightened in the night needing to call him again.
The chirping of birds in the early morning, the sun beams shining across her bed through the cracks in the closed window blinds, from the other room she heard the cry of her baby needing attention. All greeting her to begin another day! But, her mind began its’ race again, afraid to start another day, afraid of when the next panic attack would grip her life. Afraid of not knowing what the next trigger would be…..constantly bracing herself for the next flood of memories…. and there it was, just from the simple sound of the birds chirping outside.
Her eyes darting to the wall again, she hid under the blankets and pillows, not wanting to hear the sweetness of the birds. And there she was, heart pounding in her chest, the birds chirping so loudly in her mind, looking back over her shoulder, sure he would track her down as she pushed her baby boy in the stroller. Trying desperately to stay hidden but to get out in the fresh air for a walk. One ear phone in her left ear, playing uplifting songs, her right ear free and keenly aware of the surrounding sounds, listening for his truck to pull up from behind and take her baby away. Her phone handy to call the couple she was staying with in case of an emergency. Her chest tight, breath quick and shallow, mind flashing fight or flight, eyes darting, palms sweaty as she determinedly walked along, stopping again to check all the surroundings before turning onto the next street.
“Stop!” She yelled out loud and jumped out of bed. All the while wondering if complete recovery would ever be a possibility. She quickly dressed before another thought could haunt her mind. Into her bedroom came her younger son, “Mommy, can we have a picnic? Look, the sun is shining!” “Yes!” she replied! She walked out of the bedroom to then pick up her baby girl from the crib, then peaking into the boys’ bedroom to see her older son playing with toy cars. Time to be strong for them again. Time to get them fed, bathed, dressed, and outside to play. Thankful for a second chance at life, thankful for the hugs and kisses she received every day from the three little gifts that God had given her to protect, love, nurture, and provide for, giving her hope to live another day. Thankful for the man that was now in her life, loving her back to health.