|Symbol of new beginnings|
I’m honored to write the first blog in 2017 for the Rogue Women Writers. Nothing is more exciting than a fresh start, and I’m quite excited for the year ahead. In just over a month, my novel THE FREEDOM BROKER will be released–it’s the first in a series about Thea Paris, an international kidnap expert who travels to the globe’s hotspots to bring hostages back home. And that brings me to the topic at hand today.
We all have rough days, weeks, years, and anytime I start feeling sorry for myself, I try to reboot my perspective, realizing just how fortunate I am to have my health, loved ones, a dream job, the opportunity to travel, the ability to learn new things, and the chance to challenge myself physically, intellectually, and the fortunate gift to enjoy life.
Researching intensively in the kidnap world helps maintain that perspective. While I have my freedom, so many others held in captivity do not. But real-life experts work hard to bring hostages back to their families, give them a fresh start on life. Like all beginnings, there are challenges inherent to such a wonderful event as coming home.
Kidnap experts share that the day a hostage returns home is actually one of the most difficult and exhilarating, all at the same time. Picture this: You’re in captivity for an extended period. It’s kind of like a purgatory of sorts–you’re locked up, you can’t live your life, but thank goodness you’re still alive. Meanwhile, your family is also held hostage, as they worry about your well-being while working with a response consultant to negotiate for your release. The world goes on without you. You’re stuck in a time vacuum where nothing changes. Chances are you could suffer physical and mental torture. Food is scarce, conditions are harsh. And this lasts for a long time. And then suddenly, you’re back out in the world.
You’re ecstatic. Your family and friends are thrilled to have you back. But things have changed, perhaps forever. You’re a different person now. And a long adjustment period is ahead.
I’ve had the great honor to become friends with former hostage Peter Moore, the longest held hostage in Iraq, his captivity spanning almost 1000 days. One of five men taken that day, Peter was the only person to survive the ordeal. Peter is one of the most impressive people I’ve ever met, one of my personal heroes. Kind, intelligent, thoughtful. After enduring such hardship, he now helps other former hostages.
Peter shares that there are two main things to consider when a hostage is released:
1. Time is a healer. Adjustment isn’t instantaneous. Former hostages need to be patient with themselves. Their family and friends need to be patient with them as well. It could take literally years for them to feel comfortable again.
2. It’s important for former hostages to decompress by telling their stories, in their entirety, to a professional, a specialized psychologist. Talking to journalists is fine if the former hostages are comfortable with sharing their stories, but it’s crucial to share all the elements of what happened to them in a safe environment with a professional who can help them process what happened.
Peter shares that hostages need to confide in someone who won’t get upset with what they tell them. And that’s not easy. People might say they are comfortable hearing anything, but heartbreaking stories can really upset others. Former hostages need a compassionate professional who can support them completely.
The two people who helped Peter most were Blue Cole, a hostage survival trainer and a military psychologist who met him when he was returned to the UK. Blue had Peter do talks about “conduct after capture” for military units. Telling his story over and over helped Peter process what had happened to him, allowed him to come to terms with the events of his almost 1000 days in captivity that included mock executions and other horrific events.
When Peter was exchanged for Qais Al Khazlli, his family, employer, and even Peter himself all expected him to just get “back on the horse,” get back to his former life, and it’s only with time that Peter realized that wasn’t possible. He needed to heal, to understand the trauma of what he went through, and then find a new path in life. Released now for seven years, he is only now comfortable with the position he’s in as an ex-hostage.
|Peter after being a hostage for almost 1000 days|
|Peter now, safely back at home.|
There are so many lessons to be learned from Peter’s experience. When we suffer loss, tragedy, heartache in our lives, we do need time to understand what happened. And we sometimes need help to process what we survived. Most importantly, we need to allow ourselves to be different, as life has taught us a new lesson, and we’ve grown from it, albeit, a painful growth. And we also need to realize that new starts are inspiring, an opportunity to be a more mature you, seasoned by life’s hardships, and inspired to take on the world again.
As we cross the threshold to 2017, let’s be kind to ourselves, allow us to admit the pain we’ve suffered, respect how we have grown from our experiences, and let us be excited about moving forward to new challenges.