How a Traumatic Experience Shaped Me

By Natalie

I’m not sure where to begin with this story because it’s such an important one and I want to make sure that I voice it correctly this time. The details of the event were simple. Brandon and I were gardening in our new front yard. Samson laid a few feet in front of us hooked up to his tie out. In the distance I saw an older couple walking their two small dogs. I thought for a split second to step on Samson’s leash or voice to Brandon that maybe he should hang on to him while the couple passed. We’d adopted him only a month prior, before that he’d been a stray. We simply didn’t know his true temperament yet nor his strength.

He took off before I could take action. Bounding through our yard straight to the couple, biting their pup in the belly. I froze. I couldn’t say that then, but I’m telling you now that I froze. By the time Brandon turned to run after Samson I could already hear the couple’s screams reverberating in my ear drums. Though Samson suffered several punches to the head and belly he didn’t detach. The woman screamed “He’s killing him!” while her husband cursed and yelled, Brandon frantically walloped Samson’s side to get him off. When Samson finally let go the little dog ran home and the couple after him. These words describing this scene pale in comparison to what it felt like in that moment.

Brandon placed Samson in his crate and ran outside to follow the couple to their home. I called my sister and experienced what I now know to be a panic attack. I couldn’t seem to catch my breath, my phone trembling in my hand I choked out that Samson had bitten a neighbor’s dog. I felt guilty for hurting someone else. A feeling I was unfamiliar with.

What followed was a whirlwind. All my life I’ve had intrusive thoughtsunwanted thoughts or images that you find distressing and/or disturbing.. A single fear downward spiraling into a worst case scenario. Per my mother’s protectiveness we were always taught to be on our guard. This was the first time that an intrusive thought had ever come to fruition in my life. Often an intrusive thought will flutter through my mind but is nothing more than that. Felicity slips under the water of her bath too long and I don’t grab her in time. A man behind me is actually following me and waiting for the opportune moment to grab me. I veer off the road and careen down a hillside. Things like that. This time though the intrusive thought I had, ‘what if Samson runs to that little dog and bites him?’ did play out.

For days I wanted to wake up from the nightmare trying desperately to rewind the scene in my mind and let it flutter away like the rest but it didn’t. I grew paranoid that every intrusive thought I imagined could come to pass. I couldn’t go out alone for fear that every man near me was eyeing me and following me. I sat in our home with the curtains drawn in silence checking and rechecking the deadbolt. I couldn’t even turn on the tv for fear of someone knocking on the door and knowing I was home. In an email to my sisters during this time I wrote, “I’m always convinced I’m being followed and I get super anxious when people stare at me in the store, so I walk around in circles to lose them… Whenever B is gone I continuously think about the worst possible case scenario. It’s like I’m traumatizing myself with bad things happening to me in my very vivid mind. 

It seems crazy to admit now but it felt very real to me at the time. I was paralyzed thinking that my lifelong worst fear would be realized and someone would break into our home to attack me. A month later we had a new fridge delivered. Two large (I’m sure friendly, though I couldn’t see that) men came to deliver it. My mind went there. Trapped in my paranoia I imagined them attacking Brandon and dragging me off. My hands shook the whole time they were in our home and it was then that I realized that Samson was a large sense of security to me. Having him ripped away left me feeling exposed. Brandon also helped me to realize that I had indeed endured a traumatic experience. This experience tore apart at my reality. I could no longer decipher what was common sense and caution versus hyper paranoia.

It’s important for me to share this with you because that’s the state I was in mentally. Anxiety washed over me like a weight sinking me deeper and deeper into my mind’s abyss. I was overwhelmed and struggling to cope. As I sat back from a whiteboard in my therapist’s office recently she asked me what I noticed. She’d asked me to draw a timeline for her of my most vivid life experiences high and low. I stared at the whiteboard and was surprised to see what I had drawn. There was a long dip staring back at me in green marker. 2013 – Samson “That losing Samson was my lowest low.” I said.

I hadn’t realized before how big of an impact this experience had on my life. Not only had I gone through a trauma morphing into paranoia but I also felt alone and guilty. I was terrified at the time for being in trouble. Growing up as a good christian kid I was embarrassed to be reprimanded for my carelessness. On top of the event itself we were sent to court by the couple.

It’s unusual that you never know how the next few minutes can impact your life. I never would have pictured myself sitting in criminal court defending myself against a district attorney. What happened in court that day was worse than I care to describe. We didn’t have a lawyer because we didn’t know we needed one having decided to surrender Samson. Because of this I stood alone thinking for certain they were going to haul me off to jail then and there. I’d never been to court. Brandon briefed me but this was no slap on the wrist like he had thought. I was barely able to keep my composure. I sat there reliving the day all over again. They showed me pictures of the small dog’s stitches. The judge asked if I had any comments, I had no words. My eyes burned hot and welled with tears. My palms were damp in nervousness and shame. My throat was being clutched so tightly by something that left me speechless… breathless.

“You should have had him tied to something stronger.” The judge said in a harsh tone.

We were slapped with medical bills, plus a hefty fine and sent to say goodbye to our dog before he was euthanized. Brandon apologized having no idea how brutal the case would be. When we left court that day a police officer pulled me aside. He spoke kindly to me and said, “Hey you’re not a bad person. You know that? I know you’ve got a smile in there somewhere and you’ll see it again soon.” I clung to his words.

It all happened so fast, I was shell shocked for weeks. I shut myself in pushing everyone away because I couldn’t bear anyone shining light on my shame. I couldn’t bear talking about the worst mistake I’d ever made. I needed tissues, perhaps a hug. I needed to surround myself with people who were willing to say “I’m sorry this is happening.” All I wanted to do was cry and tell people how scared I was. Instead I’m sad to say that I came across defensively to my loved ones and I am sorry for not handling myself better.

At the time I felt alone in our situation, surrounded by people who found it all too uncomfortable to even talk about. I think everyone was ready for me to move on but trauma isn’t that simple. It takes months or years to move on from something that has enveloped your whole life. My biggest takeaway from this experience was learning the importance of being there for loved ones who are struggling in any situation. I don’t care how uncomfortable it makes me feel. If someone opens up to me about something I want to be someone who will listen and check in.

I know that God has used this experience to shape the person I am today. My suffering was not for nothing, but to prepare me for breakthrough of my fears and for the benefit of future friendships. This sermon by our Roanoke campus pastor hit right at home for me. As someone who has endured feeling misunderstood I can tell you that silence is heartbreaking to a person who has confided in you. The worst pains I have ever felt in my life were seeing the backs of those I trusted. Trust has become a cornerstone in my friendships. I’ve had to learn to put up boundariesphysical, emotional and mental limits we establish to protect ourselves from being manipulated, used, or violated by others. in order to protect myself and my family as difficult as that may be. I believe that we’re not called to condemn others but to be responsible for ourselves and to others. This means kindness, empathythe ability to understand and share the feelings of another. and compassion rather than judgement, callousness or envy. It means being supportive though you may not understand what others are going through.

This experience has caused us to be extremely cautious with dogs, as well as with people. We still have a major concern of growing too close to friends. The words and actions of the people closest to you are the most potent and because of that fact we tread lightly with friendships. I think that’s God’s way of teaching us to have boundaries. I’ve grown very protective of our family and the friends we choose to keep in our lives. Our community doesn’t have to be one that thinks the way we think but rather one who supports our decisions and lifestyle, helping us to grow rather than feel as if we are inadequate. For example, I have a friend who has chosen to be a vegan. Though I don’t share her veganism I want to make sure that whenever she enters my home she can know that her life decisions are respected and I try my hardest to offer food to her that is at the very least vegetarian! Sometimes I forget the vegan cheese. I never said I was perfect. But that’s what it’s all about.

Consideration for other’s feelings with the words you speak matters. Positivity, respect, trust, it goes a long way, at least for me. People who exude that character are who I want my daughter to be around. I want her to hear positive uplifting life giving words spoken over her and to her parents. I want her to know how well she should be treated through the example of how our community treats us and I to them. That’s who I want around when the dips in life come. People who won’t shy away from standing with me no matter how uncomfortable. I truly believe that the grieving of our dog and friendships has made me a stronger more intentional woman today. It has helped me become a more responsible dog owner and I hope a more considerate friend.

2 Comments on How a Traumatic Experience Shaped Me

  1. Nem Peters
    August 9, 2019 at 6:07 pm (5 years ago)

    Wow! Thank you for sharing your whole heart in this post. I am so proud of you for pursuing a greater version of yourself through all of life’s circumstances! You continue evolving into an authentic woman that lives with intention and purpose! All my love and support 💗

    • Natalie
      August 10, 2019 at 2:44 am (5 years ago)

      My whole heart for sure ❤️
      Thank you so much for your support. Authenticity seems lacking these days so I strive to find it and appreciate you saying so.


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