Editor’s Note: Vikki Hankins is the president of A4J Publishing in Orlando, and the spokesperson for the Orlando chapter of the organization Advocate4Justice. Hankins is also the author of the autobiographical books “Trauma” and “Trauma II.” In this column written for Freeline Media, Hankins considers the damaging effect of tragedy and trauma, and how to cope with it.
Many of us live our lives without realizing the impact tragedy has on it. Oftentimes we wonder why people act the way they do or how others can be so cruel. But how often is it that we take the time to understand these questions? If we took a deeper look at the people around us, the people in our world, and might realize so many of them are in mental, emotional and psychological pain. The results of this type of anguish can be surprising.
I grew up in a strict, spiritual environment. My mother made sure we were at our Bible studies at the Kingdom Hall three days a week. On Saturdays we usually met with our spiritual sisters and brothers to prepare for field service — talking to people in the neighborhood about the Bible — and we also had our personal Bible studies at home. My life was very full through studying the Bible.
I don’t resent growing up the way that I did. I’m rather grateful, due to the teachings that were embedded into my mind at such a young age. The Bible scripture Proverbs 22:6 brings out the example of training a boy or girl in the way he should walk; when the child gets older, he or she will remember the teachings. Even if he or she strays, they will return. A prime example is that of the prodigal son.
Even though my mother did not live to see it, this specific teaching proved true in my life. Unfortunately, my mother ended her life by her own hands – suicide. After suffering a mental breakdown, she took a gun, pointed it at her heart and pulled the trigger. This was a terrible tragedy for my family, in particular her children. I am the oldest of my mother’s children; at the time of her death, I was two months shy of being 19 years old.
Take a moment to think about the effect this tragedy had on me. Do you have any children? How do you think they would feel if you killed yourself? This unexpected, tragic loss with bells and whistles, smiling and enjoying life …. or is it possible they would suffer an extreme shock, so much so that it would alter their personality?
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a term I came to be familiar with about seven years ago. I researched PTSD and was quite surprised at some of the things I found that related to my symptoms after my mother’s suicide. After that, I became a different person; I could no longer experience the same emotions as before. I had always been a warm and loving person filled with joy and, for the most part, happiness, but after this tragedy, an extremely cold feeling came over me. I instantly developed an extreme amount of rage, hatred and disconnect from the human race.
The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs’ National Center for PTSD says anger is often a large part of a survivor’s response to trauma. It’s a core piece of the survival response in human beings. Anger helps us cope with life’s stresses by giving us energy to keep going in the face of trouble. Many trauma survivors, especially those who experienced it at a young age, never learn any other way of handling these situations. They tend to become stuck in their ways of reacting when they feel threatened.
Furthermore, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a type of anxiety disorder. It can occur after you’ve seen or experienced a terrible event that involved the threat of injury or death. According to PubMed Health (A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia), some of the symptoms include:
• An emotional “numbing,” or situation where you feel as though you don’t care about anything.
• Feeling detached.
• Being unable to remember important aspects of the trauma you experienced.
• Having a lack of interest in normal activities.
• Displaying fewer moods to others.
• Avoiding places, people, or thoughts that remind you of the traumatic event.
• Feeling like you have no future.
It took a while for me to accept the fact that I was suffering from a major case of PTSD. At the time that I came to terms with this reality, I was 36 years old and serving a 23-year federal prison sentence for a non-violent drug offense. I so desperately needed to understand how or why I went from being a good girl with such a strong spiritual background to a drug dealer. I wanted to know what happened to me.
Well, I found my answer. It was so evidently clear – my mother’s suicide. In my opinion, it would be very human of us, if we took out a few minutes to understand or at least open our minds to why people become alcoholics, promiscuous, a recluse or even violent. I do not condone any of such behavior — and I do not feel it is acceptable to do that. But there is a peace that comes from understanding why people conduct themselves this way.
People react differently to tragedy and trauma. Left unattended, trauma’s can damage us. In my case, I never received therapy, or the nurturing and care that any human being could have administered. Instead I was left wandering around the streets, trying to figure out my name. Yes, for a brief period, I was in such a terrible state of shock that I could not remember my identity.
Nonetheless, I ended up in front a federal judge at the age of 21. Imagine the countless number of people who have not dealt with traumas and tragedies appropriately. Where are they now and how do they react in our society? Even a member of your family could be suffering with a great deal of depression or PTSD, clueless as to how to cope with it or come out of it.
Contact Vikki Hankins at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.