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Surviving A Violent Crime

by Nan Eisenberg

On a sunny Saturday afternoon in July 2003, I walked home through my pleasant neighborhood after enjoying coffee with a good friend. Out of nowhere, two men appeared and cornered me. I turned toward the office at my apartment complex, but one of the men grabbed my purse off my shoulder. Intent on getting it back, I struggled with him for the purse, but he was stronger and pulled it away from me.

Suddenly, I was aware that I was lying on the ground and bleeding. As I started to get up, a woman beside me told me to lie back down and that an ambulance was coming. I settled back down and the next thing I knew I was lying in an ambulance watching an attendant slice open my new magenta stretch top.

Disoriented, I rose up from unconsciousness to find myself in a hospital attached to monitors of all kinds. It was a day and a half later. Although she belonged in Boston, my sister was there, and told me that I had been shot and was in the surgical intensive care unit at Huron Hospital.

I learned I had been shot in the head. At first it had not been clear I would survive. It was not clear how much my brain had been damaged or what other injuries I had sustained. Thankfully, the bullet fragment lodged deep in my brain lay in the caudate or "silent" region, so no operation was performed.

I felt like Alice fallen down the rabbit hole into an unfamiliar world. It all seemed so strange. A medical team was actively tending to me. My sister, my cousin from western Massachusetts, and other relatives were there looking out of me. The police came, and I told my story as best I could. I had trouble seeing out of my left eye and didn’t yet know the extent of my injuries. But I was alive and my mental faculties seemed intact. I felt grateful and relieved.

I continued to undergo x-rays and other testing, plus evaluations by a surgeon, neurosurgeon, plastic surgeon, retina-vitreous specialist, physical and occupational therapists, psychiatrist, social worker plus additional visits from the police. My employer supplied my insurance I.D. and each day it was a question whether another day’s stay would be approved. I was also numb at first to the full implications what had happened; a few weeks later I began to face the reality that I might have died.

It was only one month after the shooting that I returned to an Intensive Journal workshop. I had attended these workshops before and was familiar with the process. When I decided to go ahead and attend, I was confident I would benefit, although I didn’t know exactly how.

I found that initially, the Intensive Journal method provided a respite from the ordeals I endured during the early days after the incident. It allowed me to reconnect with my life as a whole, flowing for many years with richness and complexity. When early exercises asked me to demarcate the "now" period of my life and record my major life steppingstones, I chose my breakup with a boyfriend four years before as the start of the "now" period, and did not include the shooting in my steppingstones list. As the workshop progressed, I began to fit the shooting into my life. It was not until a year later, at another workshop, when the shooting did signal the beginning of my "now" period.

Dialogue sections enabled me to speak in depth with aspects of my life, such as other persons or works, and complemented the approach of the chronologically oriented sections. In Dialogue with Events, I spoke directly with the shooting, this sudden, shocking happening that was transforming my life. Through this dialogue I saw how the shooting activated systems of response: witnesses called 911, EMS personnel took me to the hospital with a trauma unit skilled in treating gunshot victims, and the police notified my family and employer and began to search for the perpetrators. Through the dialogue exercise, I saw the beauty of these systems and the people who implemented them, how they worked on my behalf even while I was unconscious and fighting to stay alive. Family members and friends informed each other, and I began to receive flowers and visitors, pepper spray and chocolate, and offers of help and home. I appreciated being the object of sympathy and caring attention. As someone who has been drawn to social studies since girlhood, majored in political science in college, and works with all sorts of community organizations, I found this dialogue deeply moving and healing, inducing awe at what humans do.

Another important dialogue was the Dialogue with Body. I saw that the shooting triggered bodily systems, which responded in ways that paralleled the responses of the social and personal systems discussed above. While I was unconscious, and the body, too, was in danger, it kept looking after me. It was good to dialogue with my body, to let it talk to me about being both vulnerable and strong, to express my gratitude, and mark a relationship forever changed. At my next Intensive Journal workshop a year later, my Dialogue with Body focused on my awareness of aging and the companionship of my body, me and my body like a soft shoe duo, going on together.

Other Intensive Journal sections invited images and symbolic representation. One example of an image I worked with was that of a "blue sky". It became a symbol that stands for the event, an occasion for me to think of the shooting, of something lovely that can at any instant turn into something entirely opposite. I haven’t lost the ability to enjoy a clear blue sky, but its meaning has deepened.

Such images and symbols provided vehicles for recording and dealing with my deepest questions. As I worked in these sections, I pondered the capriciousness of life and also the reality of death, an issue I had begun to explore the summer before the shooting when both my father and boyfriend died. I looked at questions of good and evil, of how one behaves, of judging and being judged. The workbook tasks and sections offered many avenues for approaching these questions or engaging them when they bubbled up spontaneously. A theme that developed in one section reappeared in another, patterns began to emerge, and a momentum of understanding built.

Throughout the workshop, I struggled with my troubled relationship with my sister, which also included gratitude to her for coming to take care of me while I was in critical condition. I found safe ways to voice my distress, ugly feelings, yearnings, hopes, and fears. The workshop leader helped me formulate an Inner Wisdom Dialogue that proved to be rich and humorous, and gave me a more spacious and forgiving view of the nature and meaning of sisterhood.

In the Mantra/Crystals section, I united threads from many sections in the mantra, "any time, out of the blue." In turn, working with this mantra led me to realize that throughout my life I had been attacked, usually verbally, in situations I had expected to be warm and encouraging. While the criminal and life-threatening nature of the shooting was unique, the questions it raised were not, questions about the nature of the world, about kindness and cruelty, about those who help and those who hurt, and, most importantly, about how I respond.

I planted seeds in my Intensive Journal workbook and they sprouted in my life, sometimes in mysterious ways. When I reread my entries, I noticed that an "eye of God" image recurred in the Meditation Log and elsewhere. The "eye of God" had appeared and reappeared as a personal and communal expression of caring and the yearning to protect the weak and vulnerable within society, as well as the vulnerable aspects within a person. I had forgotten this symbol from my Intensive Journal work. Yet, when I completed counseling with a psychologist from the prosecutor’s office, I gave her an eye of god woven by the Huichol Indians as a talisman of protection for her and those who visit her office. I explained my gift using words nearly identical to those I did not remember writing in my Intensive Journal workbook.

As my life continues, my experience of the shooting and what it means to me will continue to evolve. Not only has the Intensive Journal method helped me recover from this trauma and rebound with an enhanced feeling for life, but it is also a friend I can count on in times of difficulty as well as times of joy. At a workshop or while working in the method at home, I speak of life and from life, and life speaks back.

"Intensive Journal" is a registered trademark of Jon Progoff and licensed to Dialogue House. © Copyright 2019. Reprinted with permission of the author.