It has been nine days since our city of escape and excitement fell victim to senseless violence. I think I was in the normal range of reaction, and grieved for myself, the victims, and our country. Then I heard about couples I knew who was at the concert, and all at once it was personal. I find myself drawn to the written word in my quest to help those in trauma with unmanageable mind and body memories.
As a preface, I want to be clear: I have no experience with a crazed gunman, and I have no pretense of understanding what survivors experienced. I can only offer what comes to mind from my first-responder training and years of helping clients move beyond abuse and victimizing situations.
Following are my first thoughts:
- Do not minimize what you experienced. It was horrific and real.
- Talk about it. Tell what you saw, smelled, heard, felt, and tasted. Talk about the beginning, the middle, and the end. Tell what you did right and where you failed yourself. Talk about your worse fears and your gratitudes.
- Cry – throw rocks at trees – scream till your throat hurts – walk – run – bike – write until your empty – hug more; release the emotions out of you. Get them out. Whatever you do is okay as long as you don’t hurt yourself or others, Get the emotions out. Now isn’t the time to be perfect or stoic.
- Allow yourself to be normal. Your emotions are no longer in order, they are in chaos as if someone trashed the files on your computer and you had to recollect and recreate them.
- Remember, this was an experience where you had no control and no means of preparation. It is normal to have only primal instincts to fight or flight, the acute stress response.
- When your mind goes to the finite details of the most disturbing moments of the trauma, don’t allow your mind to stop there. Force your thoughts to go to what happened next, and then after that, and then after that, etc. Do not get stuck in the worse picture that hangs out in your mind. Move your thoughts forward in the truth of what happened. Force yourself to finish the story; you are alive today.
- Don’t do the “What if” or the “Could have” to yourself. Control your mind to focus and process only on what happened.
- Get plenty of sleep – eat healthily – drink little alcohol – and allow and invite friends and family to be there for you.
- Force yourself to do normal activities. Alone time is vital, but too much isolation can be emotionally paralyzing.
- On CBS Sunday morning, there was an interview with a woman sharing how she moved through the process of recovering from a mass shooting. It is good. She is speaking to something that happened several years ago, but it could help you or your loved ones to know what to expect, what is within the normal range of recovery.
- Allow yourself to move at your rate. Allow others the same. We are different from one another, and we heal and change differently.
- See yourself as strong and safe, even if you feel small and vulnerable.
- Stand straight and look people in the eye; it will help you feel more powerful.
- Reach out for individual counseling and group therapy; this is no time to be a martyr.
God bless you!
Until the next time: Live while you live!