As I am walking to the dumpster outside of my apartment complex, I get a whiff of stale alcohol and I stop dead in my tracks. Of course I’m at home and I should feel safe, but in my mind I’m taken back to that night 10 years ago…
I see those men sneer. I hear one telling me to shut up. That I was going to like it. The smell of alcohol on moist breath is nauseating. I was paralyzed with fear…there wasn’t just one, but two drunk men to contend with. I was trapped. My heart was pounding out of my chest… BEEP!!! BEEP!!!! BEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!!!!
The honk of a car horn awoke me from my trance. I had stopped in the middle of the road. [pullquote_right]The honk of a car horn awoke me from my trance. I had stopped in the middle of the road.” [/pullquote_right]I realize where I am and run the trash to the dumpster and race back to my apartment, running as fast as my legs could carry me. I felt filthy and disgusting all over again. I had to shower and wash away the reminders. While standing in the shower, my tears blending with the stream of water beating down on my face, my thoughts wandered to another dark night in Iraq when I was almost violated again. After the first time I was assaulted I learned to defend myself physically and was able to fight off the attacker. But being able to defend yourself physically and being capable of overcoming the trauma of being violently attacked are two very different things.
The acknowledgement and acceptance of my diagnosis of PTSD was probably one of the most difficult things that I have had to do. It meant coming to terms with what had happened to me. My PTSD is not from the travesties of war, though some could argue it was since I was diagnosed after the attempted assault while deployed.
I was violated in one of the most intimate ways a woman can be. I had to get over the shame, the self-blame and loathing; I had to come to terms and admit to myself that I was victimized. It meant admitting that I was not Super Woman/She-Ra…that I was broke. I won’t lie, it’s a daily struggle. There are days where I think to myself, “C’mon Shawna! Get a friggin grip!” I have daily internal wars and struggles with myself, but they’re getting better. I haven’t completely been able to accept that it wasn’t my fault. There is still a part of me that thinks, “Well, I should/could have done this…”.
My doctor suggested that I look into getting a Service Dog. At that point I was willing to try just about anything. That’s when I got Kane, a wonderful German Shepherd. I’m surprised at the ways he’s been a help so far. Because it takes a lot of time, work and focus, the process of training itself has provided a small measure of relief from my PTSD and seizure-disorder symptoms. Developing a task list for him gives me a purpose and allows me to channel my fear, frustration, anxiety and occasional panic into something productive and helpful. While we’re working on socialization and task training Kane is also comforting me. Knowing he’s there grounds me. Somehow he has learned to sense my pulse quicken at the onset of an anxiety attack and will lick my hand to calm me down. His purposeful and instinctive attention makes me focus and realize that there is no threat. It is almost as if he is saying, “Don’t worry mama, I’m here and I’ll keep you safe.” Tactile stimulation breaks the focus of bad thoughts and flashbacks and brings a person back to reality. (At least that’s what the professionals say…all I know is that it works.)
[pullquote_left]Today, Kane is eight months old and we’re working hard together.” [/pullquote_left]Today, Kane is eight months old and we’re working hard together. He has learned to alert someone when I’ve had a seizure, especially if he cannot get to me. If something obstructing his path to me (a door, for example), he will whine or bark until one of my sisters or my mom comes. As soon as the obstruction is removed, he rushes to my side and begins to lick my face and hands until I become coherent (a task he learned on his own). He then “escorts” me to my bed and lays right next to me while I sleep.
There are too many tasks to provide a complete list today. For starters, one of my main issues is that I have poor postictal balance. Kane is learning to act as brace to help me stand or get into a sitting position. A times, my gait is unsteady, and he’s learning to support my weight. He’s learning to open doors, which could prevent him from getting to me during/after a seizure. And quietly, he’s also helping me find small blessings, small positives — the silver lining of a horrible situation that makes all the struggles worth it.