On the deepest darkest of days, I’ve laid in bed at night overcome by the pain, grief and sorrow of this, my post-9/11 life, and I’ve prayed to the God whose existence I question to let that night be the night I die. I ask because I would be incapable of causing my own death. I’ve been on the receiving end of someone ending their life twice in my lifetime, so no matter how great my sadness might be, I couldn’t leave those who love me with the heartbreak and trauma that would be with them forever.
So, I will lay there also envisioning how my life would have ended on 9/11 if I had attempted to run across the plaza towards the North Tower; as I wanted to. I know I would have probably been hit my one of the pieces of falling debris or one of the men or women who also were falling that morning.
I then turn my thoughts of being too close to either of the crumbling towers when they fell and being crushed beneath the steel and concrete.
I don’t share these thoughts to shock or to evoke disturbing concerns or sympathy. I just want to lay open what many, if not most, 9/11 survivors go through; the symptoms of the guilt that comes from having walked away with our physical lives.
Revealing this mental angst is incredibly hard; leaving me feeling publicly exposed and vulnerable. But I hope that, aside from other 9/11 survivors, there will be people who have survived their own traumatic event that will identify with having their life, as they knew it, changed in a moment. And know that the journey of learning to live their changed life will be difficult, but achievable.
I feel dead inside most days. Empty and incapable of experiencing the life around me. I spend most of my days feigning the range of human emotions one is supposed to feel during any given day.
I honestly don’t know if my life will ever be completely joyful again because the memories and images and emotions and regrets of 9/11 are with me every day.
There are those who would say to me:
“It was 15 years ago; shouldn’t you be over this by now?”
“Be grateful you survived.”
“Don’t you think it’s time you moved on?”
If you were there the morning of 9/11, you wouldn’t be asking those questions.
This morning, at a Starbucks, I spoke to a friend about writing this blog. She asked me a question no one has ever asked. “When are you going to forgive yourself for surviving?”
Only now am I realizing how far-reaching her question is.
My life is not completely morose. I have moments, hours or sometimes a whole day when I get to experience the closest comparison to participating in life that I possibly can.
I will say that having my Service Dog, Ranger, has made a significant difference in my life; particularly on those days or nights of despair. Though it’s not human contact, my dog is the embodiment of unconditional love and acceptance; and that brings me peace, joy and smiles.
I’m 63, so I have had several experiences that have altered the course of my life journey. Moving to New York. Struggling with accepting my sexuality. Finding a faith I could believe in. Losing that faith. Falling into the whirlpool of addiction. Pulling myself out of it and embracing sobriety.
But, as you might imagine, none of those carried the same weight as witnessing the devastation caused by the terrorist attack on 9/11.
My life is now defined as pre- and post- 9/11, because on 9/11 I was thrust onto a battlefield, and in that moment, my world was one of indefinable, calamitous causalities and unspeakable images. And now I live with the inner wounds that are slow to heal and scars that still are psychologically hidden.
To borrow a quote by Anne Lamott; with my adding two words:
“And I felt like my heart [and life] had been so thoroughly and irreparably broken that there could be no real joy again, that at best there might eventually be a little contentment. Everyone wanted me to get help and rejoin life, pick up the pieces and move on, and I tried to, I wanted to, but I just had to lie in the mud with my arms wrapped around myself, eyes closed, grieving, until I didn’t have to anymore.”
I’m still in the mud.