Bumps in the Night

The kids were at their visit with their bio mom. Mitch was asleep because he had to get up in a few hours to work the graveyard shift. I can’t begin to remember what I was watching on Hulu. It was 5:15 pm on Thursday night. I was supposed to have the night off from the crisis line but I eagerly picked up an extra shift at the last minute. The phone was on, charged, and ready to be answered.

*Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing.*

“Hi, this is Aubrey.” It’s the answering service. “Hello. I have a caller named Bob* that didn’t want to give out his information and said he’d like to speak with an advocate.”

The answering service connects the caller to me and within the first 1.5 seconds, I froze. It’s my dad. I haven’t heard his voice since my wedding day on August 2, 2008. Irrational. Irate. Infuriated. Ranting. Raving. Screaming. Swearing. Spitting. And this is about the time during the call that things start to go black for me.

If you’ve ever been to “da club” or “clubbin” or seen raves on TV, then you’ll know what I mean when I say how jagged people look when they’re dancing under a strobe light. It’s a bunch of 1 second stills, then it goes dark, then there’s another 1 second of light but the picture is different and so on. Jerking. Jostling. Jumpy. That’s what this call was like in my mind.

He’s yelling about how pissed off he is. He’s so angry and talking so fast that I can barely make out what he’s saying until he says, “I’m just going to kill all of them or maybe myself!” He has been unstable my whole life, so I’ve heard this from him before, but does he really mean it this time? How do I know? What do I do? I know! I will get him to calm down. Deescilate the issue so we can talk this out. I’ve seen my mom do this with him. I’ve tried to do this with him. I’m experienced in trying to deescalate my dad’s temper. These are all coping mechanisms a small child should know nothing about, but I know it all too well.

Me: “Bob. Bob…Bob, I need you to listen to my voice, okay? Bob. I need you to listen to my voice so you can take a deep breath, okay? It’s okay for you to be angry right now but I need you to breathe for me right now, okay buddy?

Bob: “Fuck you, you dumb bitch! You don’t have a fucking clue, do you?

Me: “Bob, you will not speak to me like that. I am trying to help you, but you are not going to speak to me like that again.”

My voice is firm. He calms down. 

Me: “Bob, I need you to take a deep breath for me and tell me what your location is.”

Bob: “I’m at the convention center. I’m sitting on the bricks.”

Me: “Okay, now I’m going to ask you a question and I need you to tell me the truth. Do you have a weapon on you right now?”

Bob: (irate) “No, I don’t have a fucking weapon on me, I’m not going to hurt anybody!”

Me: “I’m going to call to have someone come pick you up. What are you wearing?”

Bob: “Nobody here takes me seriously, nobody is coming to pick me up! That’s why I’m just going to kill every one of these assholes!”

Me: “Bob, I’m sorry but I have to take these kinds of threats very seriously so I need to call someone to come get you. I have to hang up now.”

It took me 3 different transfers to get to the correct city 911 operator. When I get to the right gal she tells me they are very familiar with this guy. I give her the full details (many omitted for privacy reasons) and we hang up. I called my boss to let her know what transpired. She asks if I’m okay and I tell her I’m totally fine. We get off the phone. I go to the bedroom to check on Mitch since I’m sure I woke him up by accident.

He asks if I’m okay. I crumble. 

For a good 20 minutes I’m hyperventilating on the bed, in my chair, on my back porch, and back to my chair. My legs feel week. I can’t stop crying. I HATE THAT I’M CRYING. The strobe light of memory lane flashes glaringly in my mind. My dad, all 6 ft 1 of him, towering over us in the middle of the night as we all quiver in the bed we’re sharing – begging of him to leave us alone and let us all sleep. The room is as black as his eyes but his casted shadow and his foaming mouth burn through us with the heat of 1,000 suns. He says the most awful things to the 3 of us. He is scarier than the monsters in the horror films I grew up watching. He is THE monster.

Maybe you’ve guessed by now that the guy on the phone wasn’t my dad, but his voice sounded just like my dad’s. It’s like I heard a ghost and when that happened, when that ghost kicked in the door, busting the frame, like he had time and time again, I instantly traveled back in time. Panicked. Shocked. Disbelieving. Yet, there I was, on the phone, trying to hold it together to help this guy calm down enough to get a description of what he was wearing, whether or not he was armed, and where he was at so I could report to police in the area he’s in since I have no tracking information like a dispatch center would.

I was truly terrified tonight. More terrified than I can remember being in years. It was a full on PTSD flashback and it completely drained me. At times, I couldn’t figure out if I was standing on my back porch or if I was hiding under the covers from the monster that my dad was. Thank God Mitch was here. He did such a great job at soothing, helping me breathe, refocusing my attention on that stupid tree in the back yard that I could barely see because it was dark, but dammit, he was going to get me to focus on ANYTHING other than the trauma I was reliving.

He grabbed my work phone, he called my boss, and he told her I couldn’t finish my shift tonight. She was extremely understanding and I appreciate that. I have been a crisis line advocate for a year now and this was the first time a call triggered my PTSD. I should also mention that the man I spoke with tonight has called multiple times before, and I truly like the guy. He’s a good man with a hard life. I think part of my tears tonight weren’t because of him, but for him. My heart cries out for where he feels insufficiencies in his life. Regardless of what the outside world perceives to be true or not, he speaks his truth to me when we are on the phone and his rage is not unfounded – it just came out in a different way tonight. I feel sad for him. Sad because I think he’s lonely and sad because, in his mind, his world is so chaotic and scary.

I really don’t know what I would have done if Mitch wasn’t here. I’m so glad the kids were on their visit with their mom during the call, but when they got home…oh, how I hugged and loved on them like no other. Not just because it made me feel happy to do so, but because it’s important for kids to be hugged and kissed and doted on by parents (or parental figures) in their lives.

Mitch, just as in many other scenarios, you were, once again, my hero tonight. Thank you so much for all of your courageous and heartfelt work to try to understand what it’s like for me to live with PTSD. Thank you for loving me when I’m sure I’m hard to be loved. And to anyone else reading this – thank you for reading, for not judging, and for continuing to encourage me to share whatever it is that’s on my mind through the written word.

xo,

a

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The Crisis Line

Some of you know that I work on as an on-call Crime Victim’s Advocate. I have about 8 shifts a month with half of them being a 16 hour weeknight shift from 5:00 pm – 9:00 am and the other half of them being 24 hour shifts (typically on weekends) from Saturday at 9:00 am – Sunday morning at 9:00 am. Last January I went through a 30 hour training course in order to be qualified to take the calls, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from being on the crisis line for nearly a year now is that sometimes you can never be qualified enough for what you’re about to hear.

I took a call a few nights ago that I’m still thinking about. I made a vague post on Facebook about being sad that I wasn’t able to help her. Many of you wrote very kind and sincere responses. Thank you! Without going into too much detail, it became clear to me that this person was suffering from mental illness. Yes, I specifically used the word suffering. She kept repeating the same three sentences over and over again during the hour we were on the call. I’m not going to reveal here what she was saying because it doesn’t necessarily matter what she was saying, but that she believed what she was saying. It made me really sad because, in her mind, that’s who she is now. This caller has had some sort of trauma in her life that made her cling to the last time she felt normal, loved, appreciated, and made her feel like she had purpose and she couldn’t understand why the world around her didn’t see her that way.

Imagine that for just a few minutes. You feel a certain way, you know yourself a certain way, but the world doesn’t understand you. You’re trapped inside of the words and pictures in your mind. Regardless of whether someone else is seeing it, understanding it, or feeling it, you are experiencing all of these in real-time, all of the time, on repeat. And it’s frazzling.

This is part of what having PTSD can feel like. It’s like a hamster wheel of turmoil that you can’t get off of. All of those words, pictures, flashbacks, and the multiple emotions are washing over you like a weighted blanket. Your brain is in overdrive while it’s trying to dissect every single thought, emotion, and flashback at the same rate they’re crashing into your mind. Suddenly, there’s a multi-level back up and everything is tangled up and there’s a mess everywhere. Everything has to be pulled apart, sorted, cleaned up, and eventually the road will reopen. It’s not like this all of the time – thankfully, but there are certain things that trigger that type of response, and it’s important to know that it’s not just an emotional response but a full body response. Adrenaline pumps through your veins like white-hot electricity, your bones crack as they try to break free from underneath the skin that covers them because the skin you’re in is uncomfortable and raw and can feel like razor blades on fire tearing away every shred of who you are until you’re screaming in agonizing pain for it all to just stop.

And as my counselor has told me time and time again, all of those things might be happening to me on the inside but on the outside I look calm. Even my voice and movements are steady and precise. I think this must come from how our brains work (without us knowing) to protect ourselves. Instead of your brain “allowing” something so volatile to happen to you it replaces those thoughts with happier moments, days where you felt carefree, a time when things weren’t so complicated. I think this is where that lady’s brain was at the other night. Instead of being the emotional basket case that I have been in the past, her brain allowed her to remember a pleasant time, except now that’s all she can see. Some might think this isn’t so bad, and maybe it isn’t, but the gap between that time in her life, her trauma, and where she’s at now is significant.

The reason it struck me is because I am afraid of that mindset leading her to what mindset I’ve had before. Will it eventually drive her crazy that nobody in the world can see her for who she believes she is? I’m worried that it might. And there’s nothing I can do about that. There was no way for me to help her and when I couldn’t help her, that translated to me that I had failed her. “I’ve been there before, I see all the signs, I can fix this!” But I couldn’t and it was an awful call to hang up from. And I’ll never know what will come of it…

xo,

a