PS: Remembering 9/11: The Day My Backyard Changed…

Youtube Video: from DVideoPro – 9/11 Tribute

 

I know that my blog today is not unique in anyway but necessary.

To begin with it doesn’t feel like it has been 8 years – it feels like it was only last year that America was attacked, a memory that will never escape me and a day that I remember vividly. Born and bred in Jersey City, NJ, separated only by the Hudson River, New York City has always been my backyard. Instead of having beautiful lakes or mountains – I had the most amazing Skyline to gaze at every night outside my windows. September 11, 2001 changed the landscape that I once knew and grew to love as a little girl.

I was starting my second year of college and was on my second week of classes. I received a frantic phone call from my mother on the morning of September 11, 2001 as I was getting ready to leave for my morning class. The first thing she asked was when did my husband, who was my boyfriend at the time and already in the military, fly to California, I responded with “yesterday and why?” She instructed me to turn on the television, because I was obviously ignorant to what was occurring to our America.

I saw a plane in the World Trade Center and my heart was saddened at thought that there was a horrible plane accident right next door. And then, the other plane struck. I remember my facial expression, my hand gesture, my shock, my disbelief, and my confusion that I felt as I flipped through all the channels on my television as I repeatedly saw the same thing over and over again. I called my mother and she confirmed that what I had seen was real. I worried for my father because he works in New York but my mother comforted me with letting me know that he was safe. I couldn’t get in contact with my husband (boyfriend at the time), but I knew he was ok –  I just wanted to hear his voice.

I couldn’t take being home and wanted to escape. I didn’t want to watch anymore news coverage because inside me I knew something was wrong. All I could think is that ‘this doesn’t happen here’. I turned off my television, grabbed my car keys, and headed towards my college – I wanted to pretend nothing had happened and that it was a normal day. As I passed the Holland Tunnel there were people standing and stopped every where just starring at the Twin Towers burn. I remember when I came to a light, I stuck my head out the window to get a closer look at my skyline and a construction worker turned to me and said “Can you believe it? We are watching history!” I responded with an awkward smile and said “yea I know”. I continued on but everywhere I looked I saw the towers – and then on the highway to school I saw the first tower fall from a distance. Traffic slowed down and came to a complete stop. I knew everyone felt the exact same feeling at that moment. I pulled over to side of the road got out my car and cried. Others did the same. I, feeling alone again, got back into my car and headed towards school in hopes of finding support there.

Once I arrived at my college, all the students on the campus were glued to televisions – I walked past them all and took a seat in my classroom. The professor entered the room and told us that this day we will remember the rest of our lives and we should go home to be with family. My heart sank as reality became clearer. I dashed to my car and hurried back home – at this point there was no one on the highways.

 By the time I arrived home, both towers had fallen, the Pentagon had been hit, another plane had gone down in Pennsylvania, and no cell phones were working. I felt so disconnected – so alone – so scared. I got back in my car with no destination in mind and found myself 3 blocks away at Holy Rosary Catholic Church. The doors were open. I walked in and took a seat in the 2nd to last pew and stared at the altar as all I could do was think. I remember the quietness being so calming. Then the priest sat next me and only said “it’s ok” and held my hand and that’s when I cried and cried and cried. It was at that moment I allowed myself to accept that what had happened to our country was an act of terrorism and I, and my loved ones, were not guaranteed safety.

I don’t remember how I returned back to normalcy, but the smoke remained in my backyard for days and the landscape that I adored was gone. Everyone came together at this time. We hugged the strangers and cried with our neighbors. For the first time in my young life I knew what it meant to be, unapologetically, a proud American. My country had been attacked and the anger mixed with sadness began to stir.

My life changed that day. It made me appreciate more what it means to have the freedom and protection that our country’s military fights for. I also recognized that this meant we (America) would most likely be engaging in a war and the probability of my husband (then boyfriend) deploying was high.

Today I find myself still affected by this tragic event in our American history. I still cringe at videos of September 11 and even close my eyes at times as though I am watching a horror film.  I never feel 100% safe in New York City. I know this was a day that no one will forget – we all remember what we were doing, where we were going, and who we were with and/or not with.

My deepest condolences go out to all the families and friends that lost loved ones that day. I hope that you find comfort in the memories you have and from the love and support of those around you.

September 11, 2001……..Never forgotten.

PLEASE feel free to write your own story in the comment box – short or long, we all remember.

I (HEART) NYU: My day at a PTSD and PTG workshop

The Heart of Greenwich Village, Washington Square Park

The Heart of Greenwich Village, Washington Square Park

Today my lovely sister gifted me with a day for myself. She offered to take my girls on her day off from work. I, being the proud nerd that I am, excitedly planned for a date with my brain at my alma mater, New York University (NYU), for a workshop. From the moment I woke up I had a constant smile as I was overflowing with nostalgia.

Walking towards the train station, I reminisced being a young graduate student at the school of clinical social work. I dreaded the walk everyday towards the path – and needless to say – the feeling had not changed, which may very well be a result from the fact that I had to speed walk because I was late (as I always was as a grad student). Once in the station I felt like a child riding the train for the first time. I was brimming with happiness and anxiously waiting on the platform for the 33rd street train to come. As soon as the train came – it felt like hundreds of us collectively jammed into the little rail car and packed ourselves tight like sardines in a can. There was no ‘good morning’ (or talking of any kind) and eye contact was not an option – it’s just not done (as it would be rude to do so). So there I was, starring onto the floor admiring and critiquing the other passengers shoes as I found myself  plastered against some random persons’ ‘New York Post’ like a fly on a windshield. I honestly adored every single (un-breathable) minute – I knew I was in New York City and my mind was drifting away into memory lane of graduate school.

Unaccustomed to walking in Greenwich Village, NYU’s campus, as I did in my grad school days, I felt like a calf caught in a wild elephant stampede. I was surrounded by students going in all different directions. Some running, some listening to music, some chatting, some texting, and the newbies – as you can clearly read in their eyes that they are fresh to area– looking everywhere completely lost. After crossing Washington Square Park I finally arrived at the Kimmel Building where I found the conference room that was hosting the workshop. Once in the room, I glanced at the people around me and inside, my jaw wanted to drop as I quietly starred in amazement and in awe of the brilliant minds that encircled me.

The focus of the workshop I attended was “Shared Trauma, Resilience, and Posttraumatic Growth: Reflections on the Anniversary of 9/11”. In addition to the array of extremely intelligent and highly experienced doctoral professors from NYU, there were keynote speaks. Dr. Charles Figley, also a Marine and Vietnam veteran, is a trauma psychologist from Tulane University who spoke on ‘Shared Trauma, Shared Benefits, and Shared Research Agenda’. Dr. Richard Tedeschi, key researcher and writer of posttraumatic growth from University of North Carolina at Charlotte, addressed ‘Post-traumatic Growth in the Aftermath of 9/11’. Major Thomas Jarrett, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, a very seasoned active soldier for the United States Army, and Doctoral Candidate at NYU, bestowed us with his knowledge on ‘Educating Warriors for Combat Operational Stress and Post-traumatic Growth’.

Primarily talked about was how as therapists we should not accept Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a consequence of a traumatic or shared experience but promote Post-traumatic Growth (PTG) not only within ourselves but to our clients as we walk with them on their journey – at their own pace of course. PTG, as I understood it, was, in a nutshell, ‘meaning making’ of an experience. PTG is both a process and an outcome, transforming responses to adversity into a growth enhancing outlook to the traumatic event that has occurred creating a new level of functioning and perspective. The best approach is to guide our clients into narrative therapy and/or “story-telling” – allowing them to become their own author.

 Major Thomas Jarrett also introduced his “Warrior Resilience and Thriving” program in which he encourages soldiers and veterans to strive for PTG and fight their “internal insurgents”. He mentioned how in his work he urges military service members to not settle with their deployments as being only a traumatizing event but to transform it into learning and empowering experiences.

Additionally, Major Thomas Jarrett touched upon a topic more close to my heart. He openly informed the audience about how stigmatization remains loud and clear in the military with seeking guidance (as I prefer it called) from mental health professionals as well as mental health still being highly under-reported. Military service members fear being called weak or unable to proficiently lead, for example, if they are under the care of a therapist. This is no secret of course, and I know the military is consistently working towards breaking down the barriers to mental health and eliminating (or at least reducing) the stigma. A process I want to be part of (even if it means my beginnings are with this blog and/or speaking to individuals as I go along my journey of military life).

Even though I am a psychotherapist social worker, I am a military wife and mother first. I will admit that I constantly fight my own battles to suppress my desire to allow the social worker in me to jump out and counsel, advocate, and treat my husband during his deployment. (I can only imagine this getting worse when he comes home.) But I know that my husband needs me to just be his wife and the mother of his children. As Major Thomas Jarrett mentioned in the workshop, family resilience is even more so important during military deployments. “If one family member crumbles, we all crumble”.

I know that it would be of no benefit if I constantly diagnosed, titled, or named the situations or circumstances my husband is facing. The only best thing I can do for my husband is to offer a listening ear with constant reassurance and letting him tell me truthfully what he feels in his heart. I cannot ask my husband to tell my gory details if he does not want to and/or if he has none! Nor can I drag out of him weeping stories of how he would rather be home.  It has to be true – it has to be him – because frankly, his deployment and experience is not about me.

What I feel and what I experience through this deployment on the homefront is my truth to hold. Just as my husband – I can only speak for what is true in my heart and from what I am ready to share. And even though we are on this road together as a family – just as when we ride in our family vehicle – we are looking out of opposite windows. I cannot show antipathy towards him for what he sees and does not see just as he cannot do the same to me. The only thing I can hope for is that when we come to the end of the road – we are together and stronger than we ever were before.