During the first week of December 2016, I upgraded from my studio apartment in west Houston to a one-bedroom located in a fashionable neighborhood of the city’s desirable inner loop area. I had long been daydreaming of a shorter commute to work, living closer to my boyfriend, and generally no longer having to trek for 20 minutes just to reach ordinary conveniences such as the grocery store or the gas station. (Bonus points to the separate bedroom and kitchen. I took for granted not having my bedsheets smell like what I made for dinner until I became a studio-dweller.) To say I was excited about my larger, more central home base is an understatement – but not long after the move, I was completely regretting my decision as I found myself having to recover from a burglary.
Someone broke into my apartment just 3 weeks after I’d moved in.
Thousands of dollars of jewelry stolen from my nightstand music box, over which I’d hovered just that morning, trying to decide which earrings to wear. All that remained were the tiny zirconia studs I’d worn as an infant, a leather bracelet I’d bought in Italy that summer, and some spare SD cards. (I’ve always found it strange that whoever had stolen my things had forgone the urgency of the crime to indulge his or her selectivity, taking the time to rummage through the cramped container for only the most valuable pieces, rather than just indiscriminately grabbing everything it housed.)
Doubt overcame me as to whether I’d be able to recover from the emotional trauma. While not entirely financially devastating, this incident left me feeling completely violated from that night forward, repeating clichés about grieving more the loss of my sense of security than the theft of my material possessions. I began fearing that I’d never regain my trust in my surroundings and in other people as I grew constantly paranoid: installing a doorbell camera, plastering unfriendly “Smile! You’re on camera!” signs at my front door, and obsessively checking locks I already knew I’d secured.
While I might never again achieve the same level of carefreeness that I had pre-burglary, I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. (Home safety is not really something about which you want to be nonchalant, after all). I may not have wanted to be changed by what happened, but I failed to realize that even change stemming from negative catalysts can be good. Here are a few things I learned in the months I spent recovering from the burglary.
1. Place greater value in the intangible.
I did say that I now repeat clichés! Almost everyone has tickets to the “Materialism Is Bad” convention, but it’s sadly only after experiencing something like a burglary or robbery that you truly understand the message. Friends, family, experiences, even knowledge and skills, transcend the temporary nature of material things, so invest your time and money in what can never be taken from you. (This newfound reinforcement in the permanence of experiences has led me to spend more of my money on travel, and you can read about it here!)
2. You cannot control the actions of others.
I was telling my neighbor about the burglary shortly after it happened. Since there hadn’t been any signs of forced entry, I was wondering aloud if the burglar (a maintenance worker or the previous tenant, perhaps?) had gotten in with his or her own key or because I’d unwittingly left the door unlocked (to this day, I still swear I’d locked it!). She kindly told me, “It doesn’t matter whether or not you locked the door. Either way, someone with the intent to break in tested your doorknob.” The burglary was not a function of anything I did but rather a conscious decision made by someone else.
3. You can’t find all the answers.
Who did this? Why did he or she choose my apartment on the top floor? More shamefully, Why didn’t this happen to my neighbors, who have more to take than I do? Then gratefully, Why hadn’t they taken more? To this day, I have no inclination as to who stole the jewelry my mother passed down to me, and I know I never will. No one can answer these effectively rhetorical questions no matter how many of them come to my mind. You will learn to accept what can never be known.
4. Being guarded does not make you a cynic.
I had been scared that the burglary would make me categorically distrustful of others, and although going to paranoid extremes would certainly be harmful, being discerning with whom I trust does not in any way make me a bitter person. Trust is a choice, and I refuse to be pressured into “trusting” someone based on impersonal qualifications such as the fact that they work in my apartment building or live on the same hall that I do.
5. There’s no use in “what-ifs” or taking the moral high-ground.
If I had come home earlier from work, would I even be writing this post? What if I’d never moved apartments? Questions like these are irrelevant in that hypothetical situations won’t change what happened. It’s almost as useless as asking, What if I just had not been burglarized? Similarly, while it’s easy for me to say that I would have never done the same thing had I been in the burglar’s shoes, I am completely unqualified to speak on circumstances in which I have been driven to steal. (I have been faced with exactly zero such circumstances.) Life has been very easy for me, so it’s not my place to make moral indictments on situations to which I’ve been fortunate enough not to relate.
6. There isn’t always an existential reason for everything.
I’d always been able to cope with changes by divining a purpose behind the occurrence of even the smallest of events, as if romanticizing my life as a series of deeply interconnected and constantly unfolding plot lines. But I struggled to imagine what purpose the burglary could possibly be serving in the arc of my life. (Perhaps it’s not so much a plot element as it is character development?)
7. You will eventually settle back into a routine.
Whether by willpower or by the passage of time, you will gradually revert to normalcy. Moving about in your own home will no longer be a game of avoiding reminders of the incident but rather a reclamation of your space. You’ll barely notice yourself settling back into your old way of life, if only a little more aware of your surroundings than before. You’ll have friends over, redecorate, have dinners with your loved ones, and cuddle with your pets on the carpet. Take it from me: You will recover from this.
Social media (blogs included) makes it easy to believe that life is an uninterrupted series of photogenic, post-worthy moments. But as I stated in my previous post about coping with pressure from social media, perpetuating the illusion of a perfect life sometimes places undue pressure on people to live up to that fabricated image. I want this post to highlight that life isn’t always the bright, colorful scenes we see on Instagram and how acknowledging the negative things that happen to us can be healthy and worthy of attention in its own right.
Have you ever had to recover from a burglary, and what did you learn? Let me know in the comments below!
The images in this post are stock photos from Unsplash.com.