"When someone breaks into your house everything changes. Whether or not you were there you could never feel more violated and insecure," Lisa Harris* told Outlook recently after being asked to talk about her ordeal.
"I had come home from work and I could see that the lights were on. I did not expect my parents to be home and my father's vehicle was not there, so I called my mother and she said she was not inside. In that moment, I was not sure what to feel. Anxiety and fear were only two of the emotions that came flooding in. My brother who was dropping me off decided to scan the house before he left. I entered as my dog seemed to be tired and not his normal, active self. As I approached my parents room, I noticed everything was ransacked. The drawers were pulled out, the mattress was moved. Clothes were on the floor. When I entered my room, I was equally horrified. Seeing everything overturned had my stomach turning. Then I saw my underwear all over the floor, I just felt like picking them up and burning all of them. There was nothing more invasive. I must admit I was in too much of a shock to even cry, say, or do much. I do not believe in my entire life I have felt anymore discomfort as I did in that moment. It changed everything that I felt about my living situation. That night, we got someone to fix the grille that they cut through, not that it helped us to feel safer, but I guess it had to be done, then shortly after, the windows were also grilled on the inside. So, while we were not criminals, we have become prisoners in our own home," shared Vanessa Harris.
Psychotherapist Alina Apostol noted that break-ins attract post-traumatic stress reaction, which differs in individuals. What she believes is important is that people accept that it is normal to feel these feelings and take time to go through the process.
"It is normal to experience a mixture of feelings and they will be more intense in the days after the break-in lasting up to the three weeks after," said Apostal. "Something inside you will be broken, so take care of your internal wound as you would physical pain."
She listed a few of the feelings that one would feel after the break-in, these include, fright, which leads to fear of recurrence, helplessness, anger, guilt, sadness, shame or embarrassment, and hope.
"I was frightened for awhile. I think it took a month before I could like sleep through the night. I never wanted to be home alone - day or night. I always found somewhere else to go. In the night, if the fan happened to blow a book or a plastic bag, I left somewhere in the room, I would go in a panic, jump up and turn the light on," noted Harris.
Fear was not all she felt, "I was so angry that I could not feel safe at home. There was a time when I felt like I lived in a relatively safe area, if I came home at 2 a.m. I would be fine, but not after they broke into my house in broad daylight. I hated that someone had the power to instill that much fear in me," said Harris.
Harris suffered from what Apostol described as the hardest thing for some of the victims to overcome, the will to accept that bad things can happen to us. Not in a million years did Harris believe that this would have happened to her and her family, and it did. However, it brings us back to reality and allows us to remember to live small.
It took some time for Harris to feel normal in her home and she admitted that three years later, there are a few things that still bother her.
"I do feel much safer. I have no problem going home by myself or being at home in the day. Once I am getting a ride, I do not even mind coming in late. So I guess that most of the fear is gone, it is just the little reminders like the windows that might bring back a bit of fear, or more so, annoyance because of the prison feeling. I must admit I do not like to be alone after hours, but I do sleep quite fine," said Harris.
It takes time to get to this place, noted Apostol, and sometimes psychotherapy is necessary to overcome these fears. However, one thing that people can do is to rearrange the furniture where possible.
"Many people will reject that house and move away if they can afford to. A wrong thing in my opinion, because they are trying to run away from something which is felt inside them, so the anxiety and fear will be present in a new house, hotel or any new place they might move to," said Apostol.
What she recommends is that persons continue with their personal rituals that make them feel good about their home. If you can afford to, you can do a remake, and if not, make some fun DIY (Do it Yourself) changes that you will give a new look, but will be cost effective.
However, what is evident is that time heals all wounds. If the person witnessed the ordeal, it can cause much more emotional damage. In these cases, therapy is more than likely necessary to help this process of recovery.
"The proximity of the danger makes this moment harder to digest and it requires psychotherapy to manage. Some of us may forget right away the exact order of events (the brain protects himself by erasing the memories), but the body will always remember the trauma, hence the panic attacks with no reason that might accompany the person for the rest of their life," noted Apostol.
While this is a tough ordeal to overcome we all have the power to move on from it. We just have to believe we can and if not able to do it on our own seek help.
What to do after a break in
Call or visit the police and file a report.
Call the insurance company.
Make video footage and take pictures.
Clean up all signs of the break-in.
Come to terms with the break-in emotionally.
Take measures to better safeguard your home.