On May 1st, 2017, my life shifted drastically. My best friend and I were on vacation in Punta Cana, Dominican. We were resort hopping, 3 different resorts in 10 days because I had earned a free 5 days in the Hard Rock in Punta Cana. We stayed at a budget resort when we first flew in, and booked a 3 star resort for our last 2 nights.
We are the type of travellers that like to wander off the resort and explore the true culture of a country. We immerse ourselves with locals and make friends that we add to our Facebook to keep in touch with, hoping that our paths will cross again one day. We spend nights on the beach, dancing under the moon, losing ourselves in absolute bliss with fellow travelers and locals. We thrive on talking to strangers, learning their stories, seeing what makes their eyes light up, learning how they live their lives.
We were warned however, that Dominican is not a place to be wandering off the resort as it’s quite dangerous. We have played with fire in the past, losing ourselves in true wanderlust that took us down many adventures, many of which are secrets that can’t be told, and following our readings of energy of places, streets and people to keep us safe.
Feeling out energy has never failed us, even when I was hitting up Vegas by myself because all the other ladies that were supposed to go with me ended up bailing. PS: I had one of the best weekends of my life by myself in Vegas. I made friends with Uber drivers which lead me to a house party and hanging out with someone famous. I befriended fellow Hard Rock fans wandering around the memorabilia in the Hard Rock which lead me to eating tacos at 4 am on the other side of Vegas at an authentic Mexican restaurant with a Ryan Reynolds look alike and a coach of one of the Team USA teams. That’s as far as the Vegas tales will go, long story short, my vibe kept me alive in a city that’s not meant for a single 24-year-old free spirited wild child to be ripping around by herself.
We FELT in Dominican that it was not safe for us to leave the resort, so we abided by the rules. That’s the part that really got me even to this day: we followed the rules. When we arrived at the third resort, what was supposed to be our last resort of the trip, paradise quickly turned to darkness.
As my fingers stopped typing on the keyboard and I have just been staring at the laptop screen for the last 5 minutes, my heart beating out of my chest and I suddenly feel like vomiting, I know that I am not ready to fully publicise the full story of what happened at the Whala Bavaro.
Long story short, there was a prostitution ring being ran out of the resort, that the entire management and security staff was in on. We were put in Room 3116, where there was no phone, 4 ways to break into our room and no proper locks on any of those 4 ways. I had a couple of drinks earlier in the afternoon that made me feel so drunk I had to sleep it off. It wasn’t until later when we helplessly watched a drugged tourist get dragged out of the lobby into the street to be raped by security, that I had realised that I had been drugged earlier in the day.
There was a pimp right in the open in broad daylight, watching the tourists as women took men upstairs into the “yoga studio”. The thing about traveling, is you have to be open minded to other cultures and accept things as it is even if you are so against it. It was obvious that there was an organized prostitution ring being ran out of the resort, but in Dominican, prostitution is legal. It wasn’t until later that night, that we realised we, the two young beautiful women in room 3116 who are heavily tattooed looking like we come from money, were targets for their ring.
They were expecting our arrival the moment we walked into the lobby to check in. Whether they wanted us for ransom or for being sold in the sex trade, I don’t know, probably both, but what I do know is that Room 3116 holds the grief of women that didn’t get to go home. The only reason why we got to go home, is because our intuition and a local friend we had met earlier in the week saved us.
We followed all the rules, we stayed on the resort, we didn’t pull the classic typical free spirit move that we so often had before. The resort was not safe. The security was not safe. The management was not safe. The room 3116 was not safe. The Whala Bavaro is not safe for women traveling by themselves.
Fast forward 6 months. I have since been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder with anxiety and depression as a result. When we are put into a life or death situation, our thought processing side of our brains shuts down and our animalistic side of our brain kicks in. We go into survival mode. Fight, flight or freeze.
Then was not the time to be “freaking out.” In fact, while we waited for help, I have never been so calm. Having a panic attack would have made sense, but nope, I was completely calm. It’s because emotions were out of it, I was in survival mode, I needed to be calm and alert in order to help us get out of the situation alive.
After a trauma, our nervous system sometimes stays in overdrive, and the emotional/thought processing side of our brain stays quiet and the animal side of our brain stays overactive. We are in constant fight/flight/freeze mode. This is where PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) develops.
Moving forward in my life the past 6 months has been a series of rollercoaster rides, up and down with my emotions, good weeks, dark weeks, numb weeks. I suddenly couldn’t handle my normal day to day stressors the way that I used to be able to. An ongoing legal battle with someone from my past, suddenly became “too much” for me to handle and I had to back right off on pursuing fighting for my rights. A manipulative text message that would once not phase me at all, became something that would send me into full body shakes. When my dog got sick, rather than focusing on the positive like the Mary I knew and loved would, all I could see was doomsday that I was going to lose her.
With my journey of PTSD, I have learned that because our nervous system is overstimulated, it doesn’t take much stress to put your system into overload again and you easily become overwhelmed. I have learned the more stability in my life and my schedule that I have, the better that I do.
I have struggled with staying in my body and in the moment. Disconnect has been my most prevalent obstacle. Only a few weeks after the trauma, I hopped onto a plane to fly half way across the world by myself to meet up with my boyfriend who lives in Europe (one of those strangers I talked to on vacation in Cuba that started a tropical love story). That was when I went through my first big trigger and I didn’t even realise what was happening to me.
Airplanes, airports, vacation, culture shock, out of my comfort zone, wanderlust, people speaking languages I don’t understand, being vulnerable with someone new, OF COURSE it would trigger me. However, not having a full grasp of the damage the trauma did to my spirit yet at that point, I had no idea what was happening at the time, all I knew was I spent 2 weeks not really “there”. I was really disconnected from that wanderlusty free spirit that is such a huge part of me.
I remember standing on a bridge in Venice, over top of the glistening canals that mirrored the full moon above me, looking up at the beautiful divine moon with the man I love next to me, and I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t feeling anything. I was in a trigger state, and because it didn’t look like anxiety, it looked like numbness, I didn’t recognise that I was triggered.
I came home from my first ever trip to Europe, completely fucked up. My Eurotrip, was when I realised that I WAS NOT OKAY after what had happened in Dominican. I went into a downward spiral for weeks.
I then went to New Orleans shortly after, with my best friend that I went through this experience with, and we were surrounded by men on Bourbon street and they told us to get down on our knees while they reached for their buttons on their jeans. We managed to push past them and get out of their circle and get back to our hotel safely. Trigger. Downward spiral. Mind goes into shut down mode. Disconnect from my spirit. Numbness.
When a trauma happens to us that our brain filing system doesn’t know how to properly process because it’s not something we have ever been through before, it files it away in the back corner to “deal with later.” Your body holds onto this trauma at a cellular level. What happens when you are triggered, in an instance that reminds you of the trauma or even just feeling vulnerable, is your body then relives that memory of the trauma that is being stored at a cellular level by reacting the same way you did during and after the trauma.
For me, I shut down. So, when I get triggered, I go into shutdown mode for hours, days and sometimes weeks depending on how big the trigger. My animalistic instincts kick in, the emotional/thought processing side of my brain kicks out, and I go into autopilot mode.
Any situation that makes me feel not safe and vulnerable triggers me. When I opened up my Facebook the morning after the Vegas shooting, to find out the horror that had taken place the night before, in yet another new record deadliest mass shooting in the States, I felt that shooting on a level so different from any of the other shootings that have swept across our newsfeeds. This was the first shooting that hit close to home since the Dominican trauma.
I cried for the people that died, for their families and friends, and I cried for every single person that walked away from that concert because I knew that their lives had just changed the way that mine had on May 1st. I knew that their loved ones lives had changed as well, because supporting someone you love who has PTSD is not an easy thing to do either. I felt unsafe, vulnerable, and immensely triggered. I slipped into a downward spiral for a few weeks after.
The last couple of months I have been in PTSD counselling, group therapy for women who have been through sexual assault, getting reiki healing from Om Ah Hum Health in Medicine Hat, and I have been taking a 10 week women’s self defense course at the Now and Zen Martial Arts Studio. What has helped me the most, is the community feeling I have gotten from the women in the group therapy who all have a story that could make your heart break, the reiki healing, and the self defense course.
I unfortunately have not found the PTSD counselling to be helpful, because I have felt like my issues are more on a spiritual level with having my masculine and feminine energies out of balance, something that before the trauma I had finally figured out my flow and balance.
I have been learning to be nicer to myself, and to recognise that I’m a different version of who I used to be and this version has some healing that still needs to be done. I can’t hold myself to the expectations that I had for myself before the trauma, while my brain is still learning to rewire itself. I have been learning to REALLY enjoy the good days that I feel connected, and to enjoy those minutes that I do feel connected on the days that aren’t so great.
I have been learning to create space, no matter what, to create space for myself to just be, no matter how busy and hectic my day is. I have been learning who I can rely on, who I know I can talk about the same thing over and over again without them getting annoyed just so that it can help me heal, I know which friends I can talk to about anything and which friends are there just for good times, not to lean on in the hard times.
I have learned to allow myself to be uncomfortably vulnerable with my man, because his protective masculine energy is healing for my damaged feminine energy. I have learned that yoga or a meditative walk is more healing to me than weight lifting, as both helps me tap into that feminine energy. I have learned that I have had to accept my body to be a bit more fluffy now that I only lift 3 times a week rather than 6 days because healing emotionally and mentally is more important than physical appearance right now.
Throughout all of this, there has been massive growth, life lessons and self awareness. I can look at the seashell on my bookshelf, that I clutched in my hand so fiercely that night to protect myself, and rather than thinking about the dark side of paradise like I have every time I looked at that shell, I now see hope. I see everything that I have worked through this past 6 months, and I am still here. I am still fighting, I am still doing crazy Mary-like things like getting ready to move to Europe.
I am still feisty free spirited Mary who travels the world, even when some days I don’t feel like it.