The real harm from stalking is not in the momentary fear, but in the lifelong doubt to your safety and security. Read on to learn about my experience with the residual trauma of stalking.

The residual trauma of stalking

The Stalker Who Started It All…

A little over a year ago, my ex-husband was released from prison for stalking and burglary. Immediately, he started stalking me and my husband. It was mostly digital, but there were also reports of someone matching his description looking at our house through binoculars — in a very private neighborhood. With his background, it was an incredibly unsettling experience, one that we hoped was out of our lives for good when the stalking finally “stopped”.

More than half a year passed without incident.

And then, I received an email from Snapfish telling me that my photos were on their way. I hadn’t ordered any photos so I opened the email — only to find that my personal Snapfish account (that I had not used in several years) had been used to purchase 100 photos and ship them to my ex’s parents’ house, where he was living.

He also changed the email address associated with the account to an alias and changed the password, locking me out of my account.

Snapfish was unable (or unwilling) to tell me what photos were ordered and what actions were taken on my account while he had access to it. He claimed the pictures he ordered were new and that he didn’t think I would care because I wasn’t using the account — which I guess he could tell after he had already logged in using my personal email address and the password he guessed.

Eventually, he restored my access to the account and apologized. But that didn’t change the fact that he had ordered photos and likely already downloaded all of the photos from the entire account.

The Residual Trauma of Stalking

But the photos were only a small part of what was traumatic about the event. The psychological destruction of stalking goes well beyond the sum of the individual actions taken.

Stalkers are smarter than they seem. He didn’t do something crazy to mess with my mind; he simply reminded me that he was out there, that he was still obsessed, that I had no idea what he was capable of doing. He waited until I felt safe and secure again, until I thought surely he had forgotten me, until I deluded myself that he had moved onto a new obsession.

And then he reminded me, gently. In a borderline legal/illegal grey area way.

Not so out there that the people around him would think he was crazy. But out there enough that I would fear he was crazy.

Getting Help With the Trauma of Stalking

When he first started stalking us, we met with an attorney to discuss my options. I wasn’t one of his victims when he was arrested so I didn’t have the same protections they did. I’m what the police officer who filed one of the reports called collateral damage.

In other words, unprotected.

The attorney was the one who finally opened my eyes to how much smarter and more manipulative my ex was than I realized.

When I was his wife, it seemed like we were never on the same page intellectually. And any doubts I had about his apparent lack of intelligence disappeared when I realized that the house he broke into was 3 blocks from the police department.

I mean, don’t break the law, BUT if you’re going to break the law, don’t do it next to the police department. (But mainly, just don’t break the law — especially not by scaring the bejeezus out of an 18-year-old girl when she comes home and sees a flashlight moving around in her supposed-to-be-empty house).

When I met with the attorney, he was genuinely concerned for my safety.

“He’s smart. He’s walking the line perfectly. He knows what he can get away with and what he can’t.”

Like everyone else, he warned me to be careful. That these things tend to progress.

The woman I was 4 years ago when this chaos began echoed in my ears, begging the justice system to send him somewhere he would receive intensive mental health treatment. I wanted him to be fixed, not punished. I guess even then, the woman I am now was calling back to me, warning me that the man he became would not leave me alone easily.

Recovering From The Residual Trauma of Stalking

It’s been almost half a year since the Snapfish incident. I’m beginning to feel safe again.

The other day, I received an email about a suspicious login to my Netflix account. Once again, my email address and password were changed.

As soon as I saw that my account had been compromised, my mind immediately went to him. I relived the details of those terrifying weeks when he was first released and the subsequent Snapfish fiasco. I tried to figure out what he would want from my Netflix account. All I could guess is that he wanted to see what shows we used to watch together; he was always obsessive about lists of what shows and movies he had watched.

In an instant, I went from cool and collected just checking my email to terrified and — my personal brand of traumatic reliving — frozen.

I recovered the account and then canceled it after four hours on the phone with Netflix proved fruitless in turning up any information about who had gained access to my account. Of course, they couldn’t give me any information — couldn’t even see the email address my account had been changed to on their end. (I’m so sure…)

This time, the information is much less sensitive than the photos from Snapfish, and there is no proof that my ex is responsible for the hacking. But really, it doesn’t matter whether he did it or not.

Because the damage of stalking isn’t just the actions themselves; it’s the way that stalking colors every future experience, training your brain to fear rather than to process.

It’s been almost a week, and I’m still recovering.

I’ll always be recovering.

Because safety and security post-trauma are just an email away from disappearing.

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