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  • Writer's pictureChristine Hassing

Jennifer and Onyx

This week I am honored to share Jennifer and Onyx’s story of hope. In conversations with others, when I use the acronym PTSD, rarely do I have to explain what the acronym stands for. In conversations, when I have used the acronym MST, most of the time I am met with the question what is MST? I was given the privilege of listening to and then writing Jennifer’s journey of how, like her brothers and sisters in arms, she knew the deepest levels of Pain, Trauma, Sorrow, and Despair. Where Jennifer’s experience is different is that her journey into darkness that proceeded her courageous journey to hope was for military sexual trauma, or MST.

Onyx has the best smiles in the pictures, don’t you think?! Onyx is showing you the joyous adventures of visiting different national parks. Read on to discover just how meaningful these adventures are!

“Sometimes God will put the Goliath in your life to find the David within you” – Unknown

I, Jennifer, entered this life vowing to fulfill two things; that I would serve and that I would lead. Like the missions I promised to give me all to, to the death if need be, my soul also promised into all of life I would lean. Life is lived one moment at a time, yet the moments stitch together into a large tapestry. Moments that, had they not been experienced, would leave the canvas incomplete. I’ve had times I longed to take scissors to a section, to rip it away clean. I’ve also come to understand that these sections are an essence of me.

I raised my hand and I turned over my soul for safe-keep. I proudly embraced the goals of the military. I would lead for the greater good of all. I would sacrifice limb and life if deemed necessary I fall. For fifteen years my pledge I did uphold. A lifetime career my original goal. I had my own mind, my own body, my own soul, poised and ready to sacrifice all three. My own wholeness was secondary. My words became not my own but of those part of a collective vocabulary. Duty, honor, dignity; I will die for my country. I was not afraid, my trust that I was ready for battle if need be. I knew there was an enemy; thankfully the enemy did not walk beside me. Or so I believed.

Each of us experience trauma in memories we can’t erase. It could be from war, with the image of a comrade’s face. It could be a car accident that didn’t occur holding enemies at bay. Yet, over and over, and non-stop, that accident replays. I vowed that any mission I was ordered to fulfill, I would most certainly do. That I might not be able to quiet my mind while my voice slipped away could be a reality I also knew. I also believed that any post trauma I might endure would be the result of war I would bravely fight. I didn’t yet know that the biggest battle of all would be on this side of the enemy line.

Fear is a powerful weapon, mightier than the heaviest artillery. Fear clouds judgment and blurs the ability to clearly see. It holds the soul at gun point, it holds one’s truth at the end of a knife blade. It tortures personal ethics and a sense of universal right gets misplaced. Two people can hear I will obey. Two different choices can be made. Both hold allegiance to authority. One earns trust while, for the other, trust becomes obsolete. I was the one to lose trust at the hands of others who earned prestige. My soul held at the end of a barrel as the essence of me was stabbed in two. No longer trustful of military virtue.

Some describe a life-changing moment as one in which the world grew dark and still. That moment in life when the ability to feel becomes nil. I have known this cavern, one in which I resided for several years. I couldn’t see it at the time, but light was still near. I stayed in the cocoon of this cave, the only place in which I felt safe. I lived in this cave, and I lived outside in the surroundings. Outside I moved through the motions of a reality I could not touch or reach. Outside of this cave, I heard dishonor, undignified, a promise you did not keep. Inside of this cave, faint I heard warrior, fight, there is purpose you are meant to achieve.

Cut in two, I would first need to know two more slices with the knife. One occurred when a request of leave was denied. My father was given six months to live, cancer his Goliath he would not be able to defend against its might. I was not allowed a leave of absence to be by his side. My father had given his armor to me to wear in court when I sought legal justice for the crime of my stolen soul. Into the cave I retreated further that I could not give that armor back to my father as he died alone.

The fear from sudden attacks, death on our home soil out of the blue, leant to only one priority of leadership, only one option they saw to choose. Fight for the honor of 911, country over family. I already a dissenter in the make per the eyes of the military; certainly, my request was only another form of my trickery. Another blade inserted to stop the beating of my heart now; end the breathing of a sense of self to honor my military vow.

A next cut would come with a gift, though at the time I did not readily see. A confrontation took me too my core, bringing my soul back to me. In 2008 another slice took the form of a nervous breakdown. Into the deepest part of the cave I moved, certain I would no longer be found. I thought I knew silence when that first knife cut me in two. In the back of this cave it was the loudest stillness I ever knew. It deafened me and was a thief taking from places I didn’t know I had more that could be stolen away. I was safest in this cavern, and yet I longed to escape. Words filling pages, rapidly turning through my mind, reams and reams of paper capturing what I was trying to hide. Yet, if someone stepped inside the doorway willing to listen to me speak, all the words were gone, a fleeting retreat.

One does not know courage until one has decided to rise from where one lays. When a blanket and a bed are the only safe refuge, walking to the couch requires enormous strength. You may not understand how someone who fought a war so bravely found it her biggest win to say no to anxiety. My hope is that you never have to know this intimately. And for those who have walked a similar journey or perhaps you are still peaking your head out of the cave, I am here to tell you here is my hand; it will be okay.

I do not say it will be okay lightly to you my friend, for I know at the end of this rope, it feels like an end. I know how words can be said but hold no meaning. All the dictionaries in the world cannot begin to describe how you are feeling. Add the well-intentioned expression of I care and that feeling of isolation grows ten-fold. Now there is expectation, of which you feel you are not meeting, leading you further towards alone.

I mentioned that in that darkness there is a light you cannot see. A force mightier than us all is busy orchestrating. It is lining up messengers who each hold a locked box awaiting a key. Inside the locked box is hope that is ours for the taking. Only one person holds the key that can open as many boxes as one wishes to look in to. That person that holds the key is – you. In that cavern I did not realize that as fear was reaching for me, I in turn was reaching courageously. The warrior within me that had vowed I would fight at any cost had not abandoned me. I had to tend to her warrior wounds for a bit until she was ready. But oh, when I put back on my uniform of self-worth, of honor and dignity, beside my tags was a large key. It opened the first box which contained the words I have the ability to be free.

My freedom came in the form of fur and four feet. She, too, a warrior, like me. Onyx, too, had been fighting her own war of survival, a desire to serve and lead. She entered my life in 2013 with three things I had lost along the way. An open heart to love without fear, to grab hope, to feel faith. Onyx understands what my heart is unable to communicate. She knows better than I do when I feel unsteady and not safe. Onyx has given me the ability to leave the cave for extended periods of time. If I have moments that feel better to re-enter the cavern, she enters with me until my fighting spirit again I find. She doesn’t need me to tell her where she should sit, or she should lay. In a vehicle, in a store, in a national park – Onyx has my back at every place.

Like I who entered this life with purpose to achieve, Onyx, too, had reasons for her being. What adds to the gift of my soul-restorer in a fur coat is that she is my comrade with mutual goals. Now we both strive to fulfill our mission to save lives who face a new deadly war. An assault on wills to live, attacks at individual cores. Onyx and I both had to experience what it felt to lose trust and hope then find it renewed. Otherwise it is only lip service if it isn’t something we’ve went through. A quote from an unknown author reads “sometimes fear won’t go away, so you will have to do it afraid”. Ask Onyx and she will speak on my behalf that fear is a partner to my every day. It hasn’t been removed as a foundation in which I stand. It’s just that now I have four helping pawed hands.

I gave a part of my heart away by choice when I said I do to my husband Lee. The other half of my heart was stolen from me. I thought I would never recover it, that shame would be the only feeling I could embrace. Yet, that force bigger than us all was putting another plan in place. On the day I met Onyx she walked towards me carrying a treasure bag gently between her teeth. I looked into her eyes as she carefully dropped this bag at my feet. With shaking hands, I pulled apart the draw string to look inside. I have moments still, five years later, when I can’t quite believe my eyes. In stillness I looked, in silence I listened as the rhythm began to evenly beat. For in that bag was my heart that Onyx had brought back to me.

With Onyx by my side I have stood in front of others sharing my story in an effort to bring atonement to things that have taken place. My purpose I knew was to influence and lead change. Advocating to congress and major news agencies, spent to points broke of money and time. Non-stop promotion for laws almost passed and factual investigation of crimes. In each interview anger and bitterness walked out the door as forgiveness and worthiness slowly entered the doorway. Amidst judgment, hate, and disbelief, I found the courage to not shy away. That my story could inspire others to fight my aim.

Now my mission has expanded to new territory. Now it is time to inspire those who are searching for their key. I know what it is to enter the cavern looking for dynamite to create the rock collapse. I also know it is possible from that darkest place to start crawling back. Crawling may seem slow, but each hand print forward is a gigantic leap. Each inch forward is to the cadence I cannot be beat. I have known a life without joy, I have known a fear of sunrises and sunsets. The sunset a reminder that the dark will only grow darker and the sunrise that a long day lies ahead. I also know what it is to rediscover that every twenty-four hours of new beginnings is friend, not foe. To relish laughter that springs forth from the happiness of one’s soul. I have known what it is to feel numb and yet feel the most searing pain. I have known what it is to will the next glass on the rocks to keep torturous memories at bay. I also know what it is to no longer need a drink, that leaning into what hurts the most is mutually benefitting. When I am willing to share my story without embarrassment, shame, or guilt, others who are struggling find in my story their own strength and will.

One step at a time or a puzzle piece that connects link by link. I opened one box which contained the next key. The next key opened another box that reinforced you can do this, in yourself believe. The next support system or life-line available each time I opened another lock. I shifted from I’m not sure to I cannot not. Many messengers have been put on my path, angels sent from God up above. Next to me, spelled backwards as D-O-G, is the best one with wings of unconditional love. Onyx loves me, her honor to serve and lead. She loves me not despite of, but because of my story.

I can stand at an entryway into any one of our spectacular national parks where the eyes cannot begin to absorb the beauty to take in. I can watch the sun set over a mountain or listen to the lyrics of the wolves as the evening begins. In the space there is no worry – there only is and be. Before Onyx I couldn’t come to a park, to vast the space surrounding me. Now it is the majestic expansiveness of these national parks I seek. I know that somewhere at the base of one of the mountains is a tiny cave, but no longer do I feel the need to run to its cold walls and hide. Onyx reminds me I have within me a light that needs to shine. In these parks is a natural rhythm, a beat that hums in harmony. Like Onyx and my heart, in unison, a warrior team. Duty, honor, dignity, I would give my life for you. Dear Onyx, for guiding me to live again, my unending gratitude.

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