9/11 Victim Redirects Trauma for Purpose
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“He went to work one day. There was no body, there was no funeral. He just went to work,” said Kayla Arestivo.
Bill Fallon was one of 2,753 people who perished in the World Trade Center on 9/11. The 38-year-old IT manager, husband, and father to two girls worked on the 103rd floor of Tower One. The family decided to wait to tell Bill’s eight-year-old daughter, Kayla.
“Well, you know, I’m sure at some point I asked, where's dad?”
It took them two days to give her the news.
Kayla said, “I remember trying really hard not to cry...the...the lumps in my throat that I would have to hold it in and not show anything. Because if I showed something, maybe then I’d admit that something was actually happening.”
Two weeks later, she went to Ground Zero with her family for a special memorial service. That left Kayla with more questions than answers.
“It was a giant dust bowl with debris everywhere,” she said. “And I still didn't really grasp the enormity of the situation. So, I always wanted to be there. I think it made me feel closer in some way. More connected.”
There were those who tried to help Kayla understand why her daddy had to die. She said, “I got a lot of the cliché things...he's in a better place or you know, he's, he's with God now. And, and it's not in a better place. The only place he should be is here with me. That's not better. I thought that God didn't care.”
Kayla, her mom, and older sister started counseling. But after two years, Kayla was still angry and confused. At 10 years old she started cutting and was diagnosed with PTSD. “I was angry at everything. I think I was screaming for anybody to understand the pain.”
As she made her way through middle and high school, Kayla learned to put on a smile, becoming a model student who had many friends. At home though, she continued cutting, and was prone to angry outbursts, especially at her mom. While her family never talked about that day, Kayla couldn’t let it go. Every year she attended the 9/11 memorial service at Ground Zero.
Kayla said, “I was constantly searching for answers and maybe part of it was just trying to find closure. Man, I tried to find that for a long time.”
Closure, however, would prove allusive. Kayla did stop cutting at 18 but had replaced it with another self-destructive habit – drug abuse. Over the coming year, she got kicked out of her mom’s house, dropped out of college, and made several unsuccessful attempts at drug rehab.
“I hung on. But if you asked me, I didn't see how it could get better. It just, it was my whole life. It just was the way that I, it was, this pain was going to be there forever,” said Kayla.
Then in September 2011, Kayla would miss her annual pilgrimage to the 9/11 memorial service. Two days earlier she went to a friend’s house looking for a high. When she arrived, her friend was overdosing and had to be rushed to the hospital.
Kayla said, “Like in my mind, the thought was you are next. And it was so impactful looking at somebody else, doing what I was doing and seeing that. And I mean, that changed the trajectory of my life exponentially.”
Desperate, she called another friend, whose mother agreed to let Kayla live with them. There were conditions though – she had to get a drug test twice a week and go to Teen Challenge. On September 11th, ten years to the day after losing her dad, Kayla stepped into rehab to get the closure and answers she’d been searching for.
“The counselor pulled out a whiteboard and she wrote down Romans 8:28. And a lot of my therapy, a lot of my sticking point was like, well, God doesn't care about me, so why should I care about me?” said Kayla. “And she pulled out Romans 8:28 and explained how everything works for good and that God doesn't cause the pain, but He works it for good. And I have never talked about moments of clarity. Right? I had never heard anything more crystal clear in my life. And I just, I looked at it, I, my jaw hung open and I sobbed.”
Kayla never took drugs again. She started going to church, healing as others prayed for her. In time she gave her heart to Jesus Christ and was baptized.
“I think innately I wanted God's approval so badly and I thought I could never get it - cause He hated me. He didn't care about me. And so to hear that, no, God does love you a lot, and He didn't do this to you, my heart, I was validated for the pain that was caused,” said Kayla.
Kayla says Romans 8:28 still rings true. She and her husband, Kyle have three little girls with one on the way. They also operate Trails of Purpose, a counseling and equine therapy ranch for soldiers struggling with PTSD.
Kayla said, “The trauma is there, it will be there forever. The memories are there. And, and it's a deep-rooted pain that'll never disappear from my life. But if every day I choose Christ, it isn’t as destructive. And so instead of directing it to destroy me, I’ve directed it to fuel me to do something that's helpful.”
For more information about Kayla Arestivo's equine therapy for military families suffering with PTSD, please visit trailsofpurpose.com.
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