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Saturday, September 23, 2023

Safe Again: The compelling story of Bobby

By Graham DanzerSpecial to CSMS MagazineThe following narrative goes through Bobby’s struggle to overcome acute PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury, arising after multiple violent traumas coming along with his past involvement  in the inner city street drug trade. He is simultaneously going through his own process of recovering from drug addiction while on parole. In the midst of these obstacles he is working towards reuniting with his estranged son, and struggles mightily with figuring out how to put his life and family back together.              Bobby had spent his whole life trying to feel safe. The sound of a screeching tire brought back memories of a drive-by shooting. A stapler sounded like a gun shot, bringing back the resonance of a bullet whizzing past his head. The sound was almost too fast to hear, yet the memory seemed to never end. He felt terrified and alone when crowds of people were nearby. These realities were consistent with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, including nightmares, flashbacks, and avoidance of everyday harmless circumstances. Such realities drew him into isolation, where he felt protected from everyday experiences.            If Bobby sat on the bus next to you, you would spend a few seconds thinking about how you could move away from him without looking like you were moving away before you actually did. Yet if you knew him for an hour, you might have a hard time pulling yourself away. His tattooed neck, glazed-over stare, and gangster baggies could be threatening. Still, there was more to his story. He had fallen into crack cocaine addiction in his teenage years. Bobby eventually moved into the drug world in order to support the family he had created at 17. From then on, his wife and child made Bobby feel safe after he would come home late at night from streets littered with shootings and other terrifying experiences. He owed his family greatly for the safety they provided him and paid them back with a home and food on the table. The streets then showed Bobby and his family how they were anything but safe. He suffered a traumatic brain injury following a gun battle erupting in volcanic inner-city street life. It was kill or be killed. Then he awoke from his coma. In a prison hospital bed following the shooting, Bobby sat up to severe mental difficulties, assaultive flashbacks, and a host of uncertainties.            His new mind understood something his old mind never could have fathomed. The streets had nothing more to offer Bobby. Only now did he realize the truth after laying down so costly a sacrifice. The truth was, he had maintained his life in the drug trade just to provide for his wife and son, two of the only people around whom he had ever felt safe. But in trying to keep his family safe, he had sacrificed their safety. His family eventually left him after he refused to give up his hand in the drug trade. He had further sacrificed a good night’s sleep as nightmares invaded that private place.            People say you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. He had always loved his family, yet he had never appreciated the small things they afforded him, like a good night’s sleep, until he had a few sleepless nights. Nevertheless, the price he paid was not without return on the investment. Now, three years after his wake-up call, Bobby takes long moments finding the right words. He is embarrassed and ashamed, but not without a hope he could never understand before his injury. He barely understood “hope” at this point, given his cognitive limitations, but he felt it more strongly than he ever could have with a fully functioning brain.            Bobby is now 3 years clean and sober, progressing well through his parole-based-treatment program, with emphasis on his mental and medical issues. Long-term abstinence from drugs and violence has taught him how to live again in search of safety. Bobby has motivation to put his life back together for both himself and his son. A 24-year-old engineer, Bobby’s son is educated and self-sufficient, a staple which brings Bobby a lot of pride, though he must admit that his son’s accomplishments are all the more admirable given his lack of a father figure throughout most of his life.            There are two times when having a Traumatic Brain Injury is a blessing to Bobby. He often sits with a pen and paper in hand during one of his sleepless nights. He has so much he wants to say, yet cannot find a word to put down on paper. Not having his son’s phone number, he can only communicate with him through the mail. Struggling for the right words, his thoughts race through his mind then die on the tip of his finger before he can write them down. He stops and asks himself, “What will I say to him? What will he say in return? How can I explain where I have been all this time?”            The first blessing of traumatic brain injury is that he can’t find the answers he would be afraid to say even if he could. He would almost rather go back to sleep, back to his nightmares. But the second and more important blessing of Traumatic Brain Injury is he now cares enough to persevere in his search for answers, even if he can’t find them. He has spent his whole life trying to feel safe. As he searches for his words, he knows it is just a matter of finding them and writing them down. He hopes they will bring him closer to his son. He hopes he will be safe again.Also see The Powerful Voice of Your Vote: Six-Years and Out Note: Graham Danzer is writer who lives in San Francisco. He wrote this piece exclusively for CSMS Magazine. Mr. Danzer also holds a master’s degree in Social Work.

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