I Was Held At Gunpoint. Here's What I Wish Everyone Knew About Trauma
Nine years ago, I was in my second year at Cal State Sacramento and my roommate and I were heading to a friend's apartment for a New Year's celebration.
Whenever we left the house, I made sure to take my keys and purse, just in case we got separated. But that night, when I went to grab my purse off its knob in the hallway, a voice inside told me not to take it.
Once we left our doorstep, a small SUV drove past us very slowly. My roommate mentioned she thought it was eerie, but I didn’t think much of it. We continued to walk through the streets of our apartment complex, carrying on with excitement about the evening ahead.
Each building in our large complex was lit up by one streetlight, and they were separated by dark pathways. As we got farther from our place, my roommate noticed there were three men trailing behind us. It made her nervous, but I told her to carry on and not worry. We were walking on New Year’s night in our large, gated, apartment complex; it didn’t seem strange that other people were walking outside as well.
We were mid-conversation when I suddenly heard my roommate scream, “What do you want, my purse?” I looked back to see one of the men behind us holding a gun to her side. All three men were dressed in dark clothing: Hoods covered their heads, masks concealed their faces, and the only thing you could see was the evil in their eyes. In that moment, everything in my life froze. My soul left my body and all I could think was, do whatever you have to do to survive.
My roommate looked at me in a panic and I nodded, “Give it to him.” The two other men approached me and one said, “Give me your purse.” I quickly responded in fear, “I don’t have a purse, I don’t have a purse!” He lunged toward me, inserted his gun, topped with a silencer, into my mouth, and replied “Shut your mouth.”
In that moment, everything in my life froze.
An unexpected sense of calm immediately came over me; I knew that if I freaked out, they could freak out. The two men blocked me from moving as the other took my roommate's purse and sent her on her way. My mind went numb. About 20 yards ahead, she glanced back and I nodded for her to keep going.
The car that had driven past our apartment earlier that evening was now heading toward me. As it pulled up, the only thought I had was, “This is it; they are going to take me and kill me.” I was completely paralyzed by fear. I asked God to take care of my family and tell them how much I loved them. I was ready to submit — there wasn’t another option.
But then a miracle happened. The two men parted and stepped to the side. It was like a force came in and placed an invisible space between them that I could safely walk through. I started walking forward slowly, praying they wouldn’t stop me. I picked up the pace the farther I got, and then I heard the car door shut. I got to a corner and I ran. I ran as fast as I could and I never looked back.
That night I drove two hours to my parents’ home. I woke up the next morning with my heart racing, soaked in a cold sweat. This was my new reality.
The year before, my roommate and I had done everything together and she was my best friend. Unfortunately, after that experience, our relationship came to an end very quickly. I was at a place in my life where I had to separate myself from the reality of that night. I only went back to that apartment complex one time: to gather my stuff.
Our attackers were never found. And oddly, that gave me peace. They didn’t know my name or where I lived. They could never find me again.
My sister opened her home to me to come and finish college in Washington State. The night before I left, I realized that I could either spend the rest of my life living in the shadow of what had happened to me, or I could seek help, work through the pain, and start truly living my life anew.
Ultimately, that night taught me so many valuable lessons about the importance of faith and resilience. Here are a few:
Tomorrow is never promised.
I grew up in a predominantly wealthy town with minimal crime. I knew bad things happen, but I only ever saw them on TV or read about them in the newspaper. I never even imagined they would happen to me. Something changes inside of you when you experience how quickly your life can be taken away. Your perspective changes, your will to live changes, and you change.
After that night, I reevaluated all of my relationships, prioritized the way I spent my time, and worked to remove any negativity holding me back from reaching my potential.
You can create your own purpose.
I had spent most of my life making all of the right decisions and following the straight and narrow path. Comfort was my closest friend. I was going to graduate from college, get a corporate job, meet an educated and religious man, start a family, and raise my kids in a quiet, safe, suburban town. I was happily on my way to becoming everyone else.
But after the trauma of my sophomore year, I started to feel like my life was meant for something greater. So I started my journey to find it. I got into therapy, maintained a healthy exercise routine, read motivational material, spent time doing the things that made me happy, and surrounded myself with people who motivate, inspire, and lift me up. Today, I have found that greater purpose for my life. As an author, speaker, and mentor, I am working to be a voice for men and women to overcome fear and start living again.
I was happily on my way to becoming everyone else.
You can overcome.
Life-changing tragedies can steal your joy in the blink of an eye. There is only one thing I can remember from my first therapy appointment after that night: It's my therapist saying, “I know you are here because you want me to make what happened to you go away. It is never going to go away. I am going to give you the tools to handle it when those feelings come up.”
Life is always going to happen, but it's up to you how you respond to it. You don't have to live as a victim of your past — the tools to overcome anything already lie within you.