‘He’d show up at church, or anywhere else I was going. Without warning, I’d feel a hand grabbing my shoulder.’: Woman overcomes years of stalking, PTSD to become health coach

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“I was 21 years old when a young man I knew surprised me at my front door with 21 red roses in his hands. You must be thinking this is the beginning to a beautiful love story. In reality, it was the beginning of a horror story that would change my personality and life forever.

Courtesy of @soulfood_sandra

I’ve always been the type of person people can talk to about everything. I listen and I comfort people when they need me. The first day I met him was in a church. He told me about the death of his mom. I acknowledged his pain and hugged him. I could see it made him very happy.

During the next two months, we talked after Sunday congregation every week. We became friends. I grew up in Germany, and his English was really good so he helped me edit my English essay for school. He started calling me his little sister, which I thought was funny. Then one day, everything changed. He looked me in the eyes and I could tell he was longing for more. In the moment, I thought it was odd, but I didn’t think much about it until later in the day.

That’s when he showed up at my front door with roses. 21. I had a boyfriend, but he told me he was in love with me. I went for a walk with him and gently explained I didn’t feel attracted to him in that way. I loved my boyfriend. ‘You’re just not my type,’ I said. I wanted to be as clear as possible that there was no possibility for us to be together in the future.

At first, I thought he understood what I was saying. Then I began to receive post cards, emails, messages, and gifts from him. He tried to talk to me every time we were at church. When I mentioned it to others and explained it scared me, they didn’t take it seriously. People told me, ‘What’s the matter with him? Didn’t you tell him to leave you alone?’ When I told them I repeatedly asked him to stop they’d say, ‘Then do it again. This time with more force!’

In the beginning, I was too shy to complain at church or to go to the police. We all thought, at a certain point, he would stop by himself.  There were times where he stopped for a few weeks, but then he would start up again. In all his letters and conversations, he referred to me as his girlfriend. I was scared he would hurt me or my family. After two years of hoping and waiting, I was beginning to lose hope. Desperate, I went to the police. But they told me they couldn’t help me because he hadn’t attacked me or my family yet. It was 2009 and there were no strong stalking laws to protect victims.

Courtesy of @soulfood_sandra

Things got worse over time. My mailbox was overflowing with ‘love’ letters. He started showing up at my house in the middle of the night or in the mornings. He would show up at church, or anywhere else I was going. I couldn’t go to my university classes in peace. I was often late and made up excuses because I didn’t want to explain that my everyday reality had been taken over by another person. I was completely exhausted and couldn’t live a normal life. I was constantly thinking about him, when and where he’d appear.

He kept contacting my cousins and other family members to get them to deliver his message to me. I was an emotional wreck, and I didn’t know what to do next. I was prescribed heavy medication for my depression. But after fainting twice, I had to stop taking it.

By this time, I was going to the police once a week to deliver them my stalking journal. If they couldn’t help me before he assaulted me, then I wanted to prove how he affected me psychologically. I wrote down all his messages, the dates and times, and witnesses. I had to prove the urgency of my case if I ever wanted him out of my life. I started seeing a therapist once a week, where I was taught how to not look or act like a victim. But my stalker’s behavior never changed.

He proceeded with unexpected visits at my parent’s house. Every time I went to church, he tried to sit close to me. Sometimes, without a warning, I would feel a hand grabbing my shoulder while I was sitting and trying to listen to the priest. He often grabbed my hands, stroked my cheek, and hugged me against my will. He told everyone around us I was his wife. He told them I had a boyfriend but we would soon be breaking up so I could be with him. You are probably wondering why I hadn’t changed my telephone number, my neighborhood, or my congregation. I didn’t want my freedom taken away, so I kept fighting. I didn’t want to run from danger.

Courtesy of @soulfood_sandra

In 2011, I thought my prayers had been answered. A German court took up the stalking case, but he never showed up for the trial. He never paid his monetary penalty either. So the stalking continued and nothing changed.

Not long after, my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer. He was in a late stage and most of his abdominal organs were already affected. One of the last things he told me on his death bed was, ‘I’m glad you’re studying. Never stop to learn in life, Sandra.’ When I walked into church on the day of his funeral, this time at a new congregation, there he was. He appeared directly in front of me.

I froze from fear. Being strong wasn’t something I could do that day. I had suddenly lost my grandfather and was already feeling devastated and weak. I ran into the bathroom and collapsed on the ground next to a toilet. My cousin and sister saw me and came to comfort me. I couldn’t stop crying. I was outraged.

My sister told him to leave immediately, but he wouldn’t until he knew where we were going next. When she didn’t tell him, he bombarded other family members with questions. Luckily, he ended up leaving and we didn’t see him again that day.

That’s when I decided to escape to Italy. It was always my dream to study there. I had been learning the language for four semesters and began taking extra steps to strengthen my skills. I applied to the Erasmus Program and was chosen. I would finally be leaving Germany, and my stalker, behind.

Although it gave me some time to breathe, I didn’t feel free at all.

Almost every night, he visited me in my dreams. I would wake up scared and alone. I had no boyfriend, no family there to protect me. I tried to focus on normal 24-year-old things like studying, going to parties, making friends, and exploring.

Courtesy of @soulfood_sandra

But things took a turn. Back in Germany, he appeared at my old apartment building in the middle of the night.

Courtesy of @soulfood_sandra

He rang the doorbell of my parents, and then our neighbors. Surprisingly, my parents were the only ones on the block that didn’t wake up. He began a bizarre role play. He told everyone he was my fiancé and my parents were keeping me locked away from the world. He demanded to see me.

My neighbors called the police. Coincidentally, the officer knew my family and knew this wasn’t my boyfriend who was trying to get into the building. He spent the night in custody, and the next six months in a psychiatric ward where he was diagnosed with a number of mental health issues.

After this, he never reached out to me again. But even with him gone, I was left with lingering fear and Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As strange as it sounds, every situation has a hidden gift for you. After being harassed for four years, I learned a lot.

Today, I stand up for myself. Although I’ve lost my basic sense of trust, I have learned to let go of the fearful thoughts. I can trust my gut feeling again. I am also taking better care of my mental, physical, and spiritual health. When I need help, I ask for it right away. I don’t wait. I freed myself from the anger, resentment, and regrets.

I have begun traveling again for the first time in years. More importantly, I have found the strength to travel all by myself. Traveling alone has helped me to discover parts of my inner world I could have never discovered from others. I will never completely lose my fear, but I can strengthen my courage. Today, I work as a health coach to assist people in self-healing the mind, body, and soul.

When I went back and read my stalking journal and medical reports, he described the voices in his head. They were telling him I was in danger and he needed to help me. It took me a long time, but I learned to forgive him. He, too, was a victim, only of his own mind.

The most important thing I’ve learned from my journey is forgiveness is the key to freedom. Without it, I could have never moved on.”

Courtesy of @soulfood_sandra
Courtesy of @soulfood_sandra
Courtesy of @soulfood_sandra
Courtesy of @soulfood_sandra
Courtesy of @soulfood_sandra

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Sandra of Brain Food Magazin. You can follow her journey on Instagram here. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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